Divisions in Parliament put peace deal to the test

Divisions in Parliament put peace deal to the test
President Salva Kiir when he addressed the nation at the 11th Independence Day

A month-long boycott of the parliamentary sessions at the Revitalised Transitional National Legislative Assembly (RTNLA) by a section of opposition legislators is now putting the implementation of the peace agreement to a fresh test.

During his speech on the eve of celebrating the eleventh anniversary of independence, President Salva Kiir Mayardit raised an alarm that the legislature had back-pedaled on finalising crucial bills necessary for the transitional period.

President Kiir was categorical that the security sector bill and the constitution-making bill were all casualties of the lengthy stand-off at the parliament—pitting his party against the SPLM/A-IO and other opposition parties—on disagreements resulting from the Political Parties Act. 

From the tone of his speech, the President was critical and tough on the law-makers on what he termed as ‘getting into unnecessary politics’ at the behest of forging a united force to speed up the implementation of the pending chapters.

He instructed the lawmakers to speed up the process of legislation as the hands of the clock tickle towards the conclusion of the transitional period in February 2023, so that the country would hold free, fair, transparent, and credible elections.

“The passing of these bills is critical because they are key to holding credible elections at the end of the interim period.” It is for this reason that our people, along with our international partners, are eagerly waiting for the passing of these bills,” Kiir stressed.

“I am also adding my voice today by urging our members of parliament to put aside partisan politics and engage in genuine debate that will pave the way to passing these bills.”

Kiir added that the parties to the agreement would soon sit down to discuss the roadmap for the ending of the Transitional Period and the prospects for holding fair, transparent, and credible elections.

“In the coming days, we are going to convene a meeting of the parties to the agreement to discuss this roadmap.” “This is important because we want the agreement to end peacefully through the conduct of fair, transparent, and credible elections,” Kiir assured citizens.

With just six months to 2023, the year earmarked for an election to crown the transitional period, the standoff at the country’s legislature could be holding the peace deal at ransom.

While the SPLM/A-IO, through the deputy chairperson of the party, and the RTNLA’s first deputy speaker, Oyet Nathaniel, is holding onto the boycott; the main peace partner, the SPLM-IG, is growing frustrated by the turn of events.

Last Friday, the SPLM Interim Secretary-General, Peter Lam Both, lashed at the SPLM/A-IO leaders, accusing them of failing to cooperate and dragging their feet on the election issue. Mr Both rubbished recent claims by Mr Oyet that the country lacked political space to promote a democratic electoral exercise.

‘‘We must give the South Sudanese their constitutional right to elect their leaders. They are tired of unending rebellions and constitutional governments which do not serve the interests of the people but the individual leaders,’’ he stated as quoted by Eye Radio.

‘‘We are organised, we can go to election with anybody. That’s our stand. But if our partners are saying they don’t want an election, the people of South Sudan must speak for themselves. We are not going to force anybody for an election.’’

On July 3, Oyet had said the main opposition outfit was only vouching for a poll under ‘the right conditions’ that would promote fair competition. 

He said, “To be honest, the SPLM-IO is not afraid of elections, but lack of political space for our activities to succeed.’’

 ‘‘It is the biggest challenge we need to fight for because we do not want an election that is not free, fair, and sham to take place in South Sudan.’’

The bitter exchange among the parties have been fuelled by the contestations over the passing of the Political Parties Act, where the ruling party raised the ceiling of required membership for party registration to 500 per state, instead of the initial 300 favoured by opposition parties.

In addition, some parties blamed the Speaker, Jemma Nunu Kumba, of sidelining Mr Oyet in the assignment of duties, contrary to what the peace agreement stipulates.

On July 1, the head of UNMISS, Mr Nicholas Haysom, appealed to the principals of the peace agreement to iron the differences and get the Parliament back on track.

“I would like to encourage the legislature to resume the sittings and to pass the constitution-making process bill.” This will govern the drafting of a permanent constitution,’’ Mr. Haysom said.

“It is critical for tackling the root causes of the protracted crisis in South Sudan by addressing issues of governance as well as federal part and revenue.’’

Two weeks later, on July 17, President Kiir met the speaker and promised to assemble a meeting with the presidency to iron out the issue.

“President Salva Kiir Mayardit directed that the issue be raised at the level of the Presidency meeting to resolve the issue and determine the way forward,” read a statement from the President’s office, posted on Facebook.

In that meeting, Nunu defended the passing of the bill arguing that it followed the rightful procedure and did not warrant any revolt.

 “There is no reason for the SPLM-IO Parliamentary caucus to boycott the sittings due to this matter because the debate transparently took place and the majority Members of Parliament passed the Bill,” she said.

Despite the boycott, the SPLM has continued with the transaction of the House business with latest being the passing of the Wildlife Service Bill.

For Bol Joseph Agau, a member of the National Democratic Movement Party under the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), the House is illegitimate and cannot function in the absence of the members still honouring the boycott.

 “If these members who are signatory to the agreement are not present; it means the parliament is illegitimate,” he told The City Review last week.

This is contrary to the stand of the Minister of Information, Michael Makuei, who argues that the laws could still be validly passed even if SPLM-IO members are not present for as long as there is a third of the House capacity.

 “The quorum is not about the number of people but the number of parties. Even if there is a single party that is not participating intentionally for a reason, then that reason must always be first given a solution before sitting,” said the lawmaker.

[Additional reportage by Japheth Ogila]