Elections Act touted as masterstroke of credible poll

Elections Act touted as masterstroke of credible poll
The First Deputy Speaker of R-TNLA, Nathanael Oyet and the Secretary General of the Political Parties Council James Akot Zakayo. [ Mathiang Makuach, The City Review]

The distance between South Sudan and a free, fair, and credible election is the enactment of crucial legislation that will iron out fears of electoral malpractices. 

According to the experts, enacting the amended elections act 2012 and the reconstitution of the electoral commission hold magical bullets to affirm confidence in yet to be decided exercise. 

Apart from this, only seven months remain until the end of the transitional period. However, there are outstanding tasks such as the graduation of unified forces, dignified repatriation of refugees, and a permanent constitution-making process bill to mention but a few.

Although elections need a permanent constitution, a census and political parties act need to be passed. The most important law that should not miss out is the election act 2012, currently under review for its amendment by the National Constitutional Amendment Committee.

Many politicians, scholars and levelheaded citizens had been vocal about the importance of a national census for the election, but with limited time, the government had been suggesting that the 2008 census should be used, a decision opposed by the opposition.

Paving the way

On Thursday, the National Constitutional Amendment Committee (NCAC) convened a workshop for experts, the parties to the agreement, and civil society to have their input on the act.

From his experience, the Secretary General of the Political Parties’ Council, James Dhiak, explained what seemed to be a new twist in the unbroken rope which had been pulled by opposition and government on whether the census should be left out or not.

Akol noted that the census might not be very important for elections but voter registration, the inclusion of civil society and the media in the electoral process as well as the proper pre-election process could transition the country into holding free, fair, credible and democratic elections as it worked out well in Ghana, which had been holding peaceful elections.

“The way things are done in the western part of Africa although it is a democracy, you find it a bit different from how things are done in the Eastern Part of Africa. One of the core things that we discovered was, for election to be conducted, a census is not a major factor, it is the registration of voters,” he explained.

“I believe that if we look into core areas within this act, we see how voter registration is conducted. We see how polling centres are managed, we see how to involve the media, and how we could involve civil society. So, if the pre-election process is handled well, then we have a peaceful election.”

This means that the voter registration will determine the total number of voters who will vote and this number will determine the result not the census.

The First Deputy Speaker of the Reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly (R-TNLA), Oyet Nathanael, said there were challenges during the referendum in 2010 and election in 2011 that must be solved by the act which he said included the casting of votes by voters on their own and lack of ballot papers.

He stressed that the country does not only need a good election act but also credible courts to handle issues related to election irregularities in making sure the country gets what he called “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

 “We faced challenges in 2010 despite the fact that we have the election act. In Eastern Equatoria, some candidates sat under trees and started ticking their ballots for themselves. And we did not hear also court cases about it despite having the relevant institutions and the law,” Oyet argued.

“So we are here to make sure that we learn from the experiences of 2010 and then come up with the best law. And also safeguards. It is not enough to have the best electoral act, but we also need the best courts to handle cases of irregularities.” 

The chairman of the electoral commission, Abednego Akok Kacuol, said the first thing the country must seek was the rule of law by respecting the constitution so that they can boast of good governance.

According to him, the revitalised agreement states that the voter registration must take place five months before the end of the transitional period and an election held 60 days before the end of the transitional period.

“In the agreement there two things I want to remind you about, voter registration must take place and take five months. In the peace agreement, it is said that before the end of the transitional period, 60 days, an election must be done. The same peace agreement suggested that the law must be amended first, and then the electoral commission, must be reconstituted,” he said. 

“Time has gone for the public, which has been expecting that after a transitional period, the election will be conducted. Now, where is the way forward?”

The Chairperson of NCAC, Gichira Kibara, asked experts to air their views based on their research on what they thought would be included in the electoral act to ensure that a free, fair, and credible election is achieved.

“This is a meeting of experts, so if you are here, you are here more of an expert than a representative. Look for the best in the law rather than for the partisan interest,” Kibara told experts on Thursday.

“We want to hear from you, what are these areas from your own experience that are critical for free and fair elections within the circumstances of South Sudan on how a successful transition can be done under the circumstances for the bright future that the agreement envisages.” 

Amb Berhanu Kebede who represented RJMEC lauded the NCAC for their efforts in reviewing the election act and called upon them to continue at the same pace as they review laws for the benefit of South Sudanese.

Holding of peace had been an area of contention given the fact that the census required in the peace agreement has not been conducted among other critical issues like a graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces to step up security stabilisation.

Since last week, the parties to the agreement had been holding discussions on the roadmap for the ending of the transitional period and holding of peaceful elections.

The presidency is expected to release a communique on the roadmap for the end of the transitional period soon.