South Sudan has made a major step towards competitive politics by embracing a two-term limit for the president that did not exist before.
The National Dialogue conference which started November 3, unanimously adopted a two five-year term for the president. The conference ends November 15.
The debate now is whether President Salva Kiir — who officially became president at Independence in July 2011 but had been in charge since 2005 — will still be eligible to contest. The 2011 interim constitution has no provision for a term limit and the incumbent is allowed to run as long as they get the full backing of their party.
“President Kiir will still be eligible to contest since it marks a new beginning,” said Chol Diel, a delegate at the National Dialogue conference.
Given that the 2011 provisional constitution did not provide a term limit, the current first vice-president, Dr Riek Machar who had been sacked together with the entire Cabinet in July 2013 — announced that December he would challenge President Kiir for the SPLM chairmanship.
The party constitution says the chairperson is the automatic presidential candidate and the country faced elections in 2015. War broke out after President Kiir accused Dr Machar of staging a coup and the presidential term has not been discussed.
Col Lam Jok, Dr Machar’s deputy representative in Kenya said that if at all the elections will be held after the 36 months of the transition period, and then the two-term limit is a good beginning.
“However, President Kiir created the crisis in 2013 to avoid a challenge in 2015. There is no indication he has since changed his mind,” said Col Jok.
After the civil war scuttled the 2015 elections; the Peace Agreement signed the same year in August had set the term of President Kiir and his administration to expire in August 2018.
But after the collapse of the 2015 agreement in July 2016, President Kiir — fearing accusations of illegitimacy — mobilised parliament in July 2018 to amend the interim constitution and extend his term and those of all MPs for another three years.
The country is supposed to hold an election in March 2022, but delays in the implementation of aspects like security arrangements, national healing, accountability and the constitutional review process could push the elections to 2023.