JUBA, South Sudan — The head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan on Thursday urged the East African country’s transitional government to set a date for elections over time.
Nicholas Haysom told reporters in the capital, Juba, that just eight months from the end of the transition period agreed by the political parties, “I urge the leaders of South Sudan to do whatever is necessary to bring the country out of transition and adopt free, fair, honorable conduct and peaceful elections.
A 2018 peace deal that binds President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar in a unity government encourages authorities to hold elections before February 2023.
The international community has long hoped that a vote would usher in a democratically elected government in the world’s youngest country.
A timetable for the elections must be available in advance so that the international community has good support for the process, Haysom said, adding that without a date “nobody will really commit to supporting the elections and the South Sudanese will not enter. in the spirit that is necessary” for the elections.
The government has yet to reconstitute an electoral commission and implement key judicial reforms – and Kiir and Machar are known to have different views on the matter.
Kiir, president of South Sudan since independence from Sudan in 2011, said general elections would go ahead as planned in 2023 despite delays in implementing the roadmap.
Machar insists that elections can only be free and fair if key provisions of the 2018 agreement are fully implemented. Another opposition figure, Lam Akol, expressed skepticism about the chances of a fair vote in a country plagued by sporadic violence.
But Haysom said Thursday that elections can still take place if authorities create the right circumstances.
“It is not just the technical arrangements and the logistical planning that are necessary for the elections to take place. What is also needed is a free and open political environment,” he said.
There were high hopes for peace and stability once South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. But it slid into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, began fighting those loyal to Machar, a Nuer.
Many attempts at lasting peace have failed. The civil war has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions.
Intense international pressure followed the 2018 deal, and in February 2020 a coalition government led by Kiir, with Machar as his deputy, was formed.