Following South Sudan’s independence, gained in 2011, the world’s newest country scheduled its first elections to take place in 2015.
Mid 2013, however, then President Salva Kiir dismissed his own vice president, Riek Machar, and the entire cabinet, for the purpose of decreasing the size of government. Machar said this was a step towards dictatorship for Kiir, and vowed to challenge Machar for the Presidency in the 2015 elections.
Following the dismissal of Machar, an associated coup d’état was shut down. A coup d’état, or the overthrow of an existing government, usually an unconstitutional seizure of power by a dictator or political group, brought further instability to the region.
Fast forward to 2015, when elections were presumed to happen. In April of that year, the South Sudan parliament voted to amend the transitional constitution. This resulted in an extension of the Presidents and legislatures terms for two more years, meaning the same people were to say in power until 2018.
Additionally, a new vote in 2018 further pushed back South Sudan’s first elections until 2021.
So how does this keep happening?
When the country was formed in 2011, the South Sudanese government adopted the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, as a temporary placeholder for a permanent constitution. It allowed for the centralization of the government, meaning power was to be dispersed among the political system, in this case between the legislative and executive branches.
Because this is considered an interim constitution, the process for amending it is not a difficult process as compared to other constitutionalized countries. This allowed for parliament to extend Kiir’s term past the usual 5-year term, and in turn postpone elections.
On top of that, President Kiir says the decision to push back elections is to allow time for national reconciliation and peace. This process will take years and should not be rushed, according to Kiir. By pushing off elections, there would be time for peace to take shape in South Sudan.
Many people see this as a power grab from President Kiir. With his now extended term, there is question as to if this is truly the end of President Kiir’s position, or if he will only ask for an extension.
With the 2021 elections are on the horizon, there is also a need to replace the Transitional Constitution in order to make South Sudan a more stable state. With new members of government, the stall in progress previously will hopefully come to an end, in order for South Sudan to evolve.
Looking forward, it is necessary for South Sudan to keep working toward peace. The newly signed peace agreements will hopefully encourage amnesty within the country, and will be honored by its leaders. There is hope that this will encourage reconciliation and reprieve in South Sudan.