SPLM-IO: We are not afraid of election but…

SPLM-IO: We are not afraid of election but…
Director for Information and Public Relations, and the Acting Press Secretary in the Office of the First Vice President, Puok Both Baluang. [Photo: Office of First Vice President]

South Sudan’s main opposition SPLM-IO said they will not take part in the 2023 election unless there is proper consultative engagement with all stakeholders.

Speaking exclusively to The City Review, the Director for Information and Public Relations who doubles as the Acting Press Secretary in the Office of the First Vice President, Puok Both Baluang, said SPLM-IO is ready for the elections if all their demands are met.

Puok, however, warned that rushing the process before full implementation of the peace agreement might wash down the gains so far attained in the quest for peace.

He advises that census would be necessary adding that the data captured in the 2008 census is no longer relevant with respect to next year’s elections.

“We are ready for elections, but let the plan be there if we want a credible, free, fair election for South Sudan. Otherwise, it will be an election that will take the country back to war,” he said.

“We need to conduct the census. We need to know the number. Without a census, we cannot carry out elections. I heard my fellow SPLM-IG argue that we can use the 2008 census. There are some people who were not legally allowed to vote but now they are grown up. The war has claimed a lot of lives. How do we know that the actual number at the moment is the same as of 2008?” he posed.

Puok said that there are a lot of loopholes in the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), including completing the graduation of forces, permanent constitution, census, dignified repatriation of refugees, political parties act, and election act among others.

 “To conduct an election, there is a prerequisite, for the elections. We prefer that actions speak louder, secondly, any part has its right, to sell the party out, mobilize, and so forth but to us, the focus now is how we can implement the peace agreement. How we can bring peace to this country,” the Information Director stated.

 “The plan are not there at the moment. I have been reading that the election is in 2023, but according to the agreement, the elections must be conducted three months before the end of the transitional period. The transitional period started in February, so if the plan are there, the election is supposed to be in November this year.”

He stressed the need for freedoms to be protected including freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and freedom of association among others.

They stressed that the lack of a professional army that does not meddle in politics was the gap that has been obstructing progress in South Sudan adding that what was important for them was stability.

“Chapter two must be implemented fully, the graduation of forces, the whole phases. We need to create a professional army for South Sudan. A professional army that will not involve in politics. What brings this crisis in South Sudan is the involvement of the army in politics,” Puok reiterated.

Rushed elections dangerous

In March 2022, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warned the country against rushed elections saying it would throw the country back to war.

The chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission on South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, said rushed elections within a contested political system without requisite security and democratic conditions were disastrous.

The Secretary-General of the African National Congress (ANC) party called on the parties to the agreement to prepare for elections to avoid bad results.

Two weeks ago, the ruling party (SPLM) carried out rallies across the country, mobilizing members in readiness for elections.

They endorsed President Salva Kiir as the flag bearer for their party in the 2023 general elections.

The SPLM Interim Secretary-General, Peter Lam Both, during a rally in Magwi stated that the country must use the census of 2008 so that elections could be conducted.

However, other parties to the agreement like SPLM/A-IO and SSOA, disagreed with this, holding to the full implementation of the peace agreement which saw the unification of command in April 2022.