National, News

South Sudan’s Shrinking political space spurs concern

By Mamer Abraham

Opposition parties, civil society and peace monitoring bodies are expressing concerns about a shrinking political and civic space due to restrictions on political and civil activities.

With barely 15 months to the general elections in 2024, enabling an environment where citizens can freely communicate and organize activities based on their preferences without any interference from authorities is essential.

The provision of free political space will enable parties to conduct their political activities, thereby promoting high political competition in elections.

Though the government has always maintained that all political parties were free to carry out rallies and campaigns in preparation for the 2024 general elections, political parties have complained of harassment by security forces.

In August 2023, the minister for information and the government official spokesperson, Michael Makuei Lueth, said all the parties were free to carry out their activities without obstruction.

“None of the parties had ever been stopped from performing any of its political activities in South Sudan,” Makuei told the media.

“Probably, people are saying so because they see the SPLM all the time appearing there; they appear there because of their activity.”

Contrary to this, the chairperson of Jonglei Civil Society Network (JCSN) and the Executive Director of INTREPID South Sudan (ISS), Bol Deng Bol (in picture above) on Friday said he had sensed a shrinking political and civic space in Jonglei State’s capital, Bor.

He said a public debate at Dr. John Garang University of Science and Technology was allegedly blocked on September 12, 2023, by security officers, claiming political parties aren’t authorized to hold such debates.

“Unfortunately, authorities quickly canceled the event, citing a claim that political parties are not yet allowed to hold public activities,” Bol explained.

He underlined that allowing some political parties to hold rallies while others are gagged was a violation of the revitalized agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

“Why certain political parties are allowed to hold political rallies across the country. Clearly, this practice is discriminatory and gives no meaning to political pluralism as envisaged in the Transitional Constitution and R-ARCSS 2018, including the recent calls for elections by top political figures in the R-TGoNU,” he added.

The civil rights activists urged the political actors to widely open up civic and political space for the citizens to fully enjoy their rights and ensure credible general elections.

The activist urged political actors to provide ample civic and political space for citizens to fully enjoy their rights and ensure credible general elections.

“Improve the quality of civic participation and political engagement during the ongoing democratic processes to ensure transparent, fair, and credible general elections in December 2024,” Bol urged.

However, authorities in Jonglei State failed to respond to the claim by the civil rights activist.

But, Puok Both Baluang, the acting press secretary in the office of the first vice president, told No. 1 Citizen that the SPLM-IO members were harassed, detained, and denied free movement by security organs, a claim the SPLM-IG says is not well placed.

Puok Both Baluang, acting press secretary in the office vice president, told No. 1 Citizen that the SPLM-IO that SPLM-IO members were harassed, detained and denied free movement by security organs, a claim the SPLM-IG denies.

He stated that the government should open up civic and political space to allow the opposition to freely carry out their political activities.

“The arbitrary detention of the leaders of the SPLM-IO has been there even before the formation of the government. And also, during the launch of the secretariat of the SPLM-IO, we received reports that members of the SPLM-IO, our constitutional post holders, were detained, harassed and taken by the National Security Service,” Puok claimed.

“It reached to the extent that a member of the political bureau for the SPLM/A-IO was detained here in Juba for days, and that’s comrade Jackson Wani.”

Similar incident

On Saturday, an event organized by the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) to welcome Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin was allegedly obstructed by the National Security Service over a lack of security clearance.

The event was to be graced by the Vice President of the Service Cluster, Hussein Abdelbagi Akol, on September 16, 2023, at Nimra Talata basketball stadium.

The spokesperson for SSOA, Samuel Chan, stated that he was not aware of the reason why the event was canceled, adding that he would only comment when directed by the top SSOA leadership.

On October 22, 2022, President Salva Kiir directed state governors, chief administrators of administrative areas, and commissioners of counties to observe the opening of political and civic space for inclusive public participation.

But, Edmund Yakani, the Executive Director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), said all the remarkable government decisions for the opening of civic and political space are violated by a few institutions.

He added that Resolution 14 of the seventh governors’ forum urged all political leaders to embrace freedom of expression, assembly, association, and media for consultative dialogue.

“Promises of the H.E. President in several public event speeches that elections in December 2024 are mandatory are undermined or violated by restrictions on civic and political space,” CEPO’s boss added.

Yakani regrets that this is an early warning that raises a red flag over the creditability of the upcoming elections.

“This is a bad indicator of the pathway for holding the looming national general elections in December 2024,” he noted.

“This is further contributing to the public’s loss of trust and confidence that the forthcoming national elections are going to meet the standards of being free, fair, credible, and non-violent elections,” the activist continued.

Yakani suggests that the top political leadership should direct state authorities to avoid restricting civic and political space in preparation for the upcoming national general elections in December 2024.

CEPO expressed doubts about the shrunken political space, asserting that it improved when seven different political parties could open their party offices and hold events without any restrictions.

“In three states, plus the event of the SSOA in Juba, the basketball stadium closure registered the new trend of restriction of civic and political space in the face of the looming national general elections for December 2024,” Mr. Yakani cited.

CEPO further appealed to the government to ensure an open civic and political space without any form of restriction.

What observers say

In August 2022, the German Ambassador to South Sudan, Tobias Eichner, called for the inclusion of women and youth in the constitution-making process for the success of the revitalized peace agreement.

The First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, also stated that the political space was vital for the parties to the agreement to champion debates that are important for nation-building.

Machar said civil society organizations were part of the constitution-making process and should be free to carry out their activities.




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