South Sudan’s government plans to send a proposal to parliament on Tuesday for a constitutional amendment to extend President Salva Kiir’s term of office, presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny said.
The move comes after the cabinet called off elections originally scheduled for June. The vote is now expected in 2017.
Citing the conflict between government troops and rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, Ateny said the vote needed to be postponed until the conflict is resolved to ensure citizens are not disenfranchised.
Attempt to extend power, critics say
Critics said the move is aimed at extending Kiir's power, a charge Ateny rejects.
“[President Kiir] is responding to what the international community has earlier said and advised him to do so, so that he allows peace to happen and this is exactly what he is doing,” Ateny said. “He has to wait until such a time that is better for South Sudanese to go for elections … it does not [amount] to any dictatorship at all.”
Analysts said the proposed amendment could complicate peace negotiations between the administration in Juba and the rebels. Ateny disagreed, saying the government is committed to finding a solution to the conflict.
“It would not undermine the peace process. The government negotiators are on their way to Addis Ababa [Ethiopia] to attend the talks at the agenda for the next phase of the talks are supplied,” Ateny said. “President Salva Kiir and his government have made it clear that there is no alternative to peace and this is what is going to happen.”
“If [a] peace agreement is signed any time before July this year, then the arrangement will undo whatever constitutional arrangement that has been done,” he added.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, a leading member of the rebel group loyal to Machar condemned the proposal to extend President Kiir’s mandate. He says the move demonstrates the government’s lack of commitment to resolve the conflict.
“There is nobody that can [postpone] elections anywhere in the world and give the elected president legitimacy to continue for another two years. This is illegal, it is unacceptable and it is very clear that Salva after May 21 2015 he is not going to be an elected leader and he is going to be illegitimate,” said Gatkuoth.
But he said there is a need for the government to ensure peace is restored before an election is held.
“The focus should be bring peace to this country, reuniting the people and have justice and accountability for those who have committed atrocities, and then an agreement which will usher this transitional government to power, so, that it [leads the country] until the next election,” Gatkuoth.