JUBA, South Sudan -- The head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan urged the East African country's transitional government Thursday to set a date for elections as time passes.
Nicholas Haysom told journalists in the capital, Juba that with barely eight months remaining in the transitional period agreed by political parties, "I am urging south Sudanese leaders to do everything necessary to move the country out of transition and conduct free, fair, creditable 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 a vote would usher in a democratically elected government in the world’s youngest country.
A timetable for the polls must be availed in advance for the international community to support the process well, Haysom said, adding that without a date “nobody will really commit to supporting the elections and the South Sudanese will not get into the frame of mind which is necessary” for elections.
The government has yet to reconstitute an electoral commission and implement key judicial reforms — and Kiir and Machar are known to have different opinions on the matter.
Kiir, South Sudan's president since independence from Sudan in 2011, says general elections will take place as planned in 2023 despite delays in implementing the roadmap.
Machar insists elections cannot be free and fair unless key provisions in the 2018 deal are fully implemented. Another opposition figure, Lam Akol, has voiced skepticism about the chances of a fair vote in a country plagued by sporadic violence.
But Haysom said Thursday that elections can still happen if authorities create the right circumstances.
“It’s not only technical arrangements and logistical planning that’s necessary for elections to take place. What is also required is a free and open political environment,” he said.
There were high hopes for peace and stability once South Sudan gained its long-fought independence from Sudan. But it slid into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Machar, a Nuer.
Numerous attempts at a durable peace failed. The civil war 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.