To campaign or wait: big dilemma that South Sudan parties face
South Sudan’s big political parties have come under criticism for perceived premature campaigns coming at the backdrop of brewing uncertainty surrounding the electoral process.
The big parties, particularly SPLM and, to some extent, SPLM-IO, have defied the dilemma and extended their grip to the grassroots to jostle for political support in preparation for the campaigns.
According to a civil society activist, Edmund Yakani, who is the Executive Director of CEPO, premature campaigns can create unnecessary tension that may affect the implementation of the roadmap and also make the public lose trust in the election.
“There are high chances and indicators that the ongoing political campaign, which is premature, may likely antagonise public opinion and may contribute to increasing citizens mistrust of the electoral process,” Yakani said in a voice note sent to The City Review earlier this week.
He faulted most parties responsible for the implementation of the peace agreement when they claim to be ready for the 2024 election despite massive pending electoral reforms.
“All political parties are saying that we are ready for elections while the actual legal framework for the conduct of elections, both in terms of legislation and institutions, is not in place,” he said.
Early engagement by parties
While political parties have distanced themselves from early campaigns, their activities have remained suggestive of their intention not to be caught in the mix when it is too late.
Early this month, South Sudan Vice President James Wani Igga went to Malakal in Upper Nile State to open the Central Bank branch, which was closed down due to the 2013 conflict.
But in his trip was a plan to meet the SPLM party members for what appeared to be a mobilisation.
Wani, who is also the deputy chairperson of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party, was delegated by President Salva Kiir to tour the restive state to popularise the message of peace, unity, and reconciliation as the country prepares for general elections in December 2024.
Also, earlier this year, President Salva Kiir visited Kuacjok in Warrap State to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph Church in Warrap.
According to the press statement obtained from the Presidential Press Unit, Kiir conducted a rally in Western Bhar El Ghazal State (Wau) before he proceeded to Kuacjok, Warrap, where the celebration took place.
It was also revealed that the president visited Akon’s home area and later proceeded to the northern Bahr el Ghazal State, where he would conduct a rally in Aweil.
Also, Kiir continued to interact with communities he met along the roads while on his tour in what his office defined as “brief interactions with citizens.”
In the full glare of the cameras were emphatic welcomes with banners raised aloft in the crowd and the head of state weaving through and waving for them—a picture synonymous with campaign mood.
He would then visit Jonglei to commision the Juba Bor-Malaka road and launch the second phase of the Juba Bor-Malakal road.
In December last year, the President also made a tour to Terekeka, Central Equatoria, and Awerial County, Lakes State, while on a mission to commision the newly completed 63-kilometre Juba-Terekeka section.
Also, South Sudan’s main armed opposition group, the Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), led by the country’s First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, has been engaging in registration of membership and the opening of offices across the state, a move seen as indirect mobilisation.
Likewise, the members of SSOA also launched some of their offices and political training, expressing their willingness to take part in the election.
The SPLM was quick to caution that President Salva Kiir’s visit to the three states in the Bahr el Ghazal region should not be misconstrued as an early campaign.
“The president was in Bahr El Ghazal just to witness the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph Church; there is no political agenda in the tour; the main reason why he (Kiir) is in Greater Bahr El Ghazal is just to celebrate with Christians,” Santo Malek, the Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs and Mobilisation and the Acting Secretary for Information, told The City Review.
But what does the law or the revitalised peace agreement say about this?
According to the Roadmap, which highlights implementation of the pending tasks in the agreement, the political parties’ council was supposed to be reconstituted before the end of 2022; however, till now, no progress has been made.
This council was established to be responsible for the registration of political parties.
Without these councils and the registration of the parties, most of the parties will continue to operate illegally if there is no link to the ongoing peace agreement.
The roadmap also stated that in October 2022, there was supposed to be a reconstitution of the national election commission as per the Election Act 2008 into a competent and impartial body for the conduct of elections. The body is tasked with arranging possible plans and procedures to carry out the election; however, this National Election Commission has not yet seen light while the time frame continues to elapse.