World Bulletin/News Desk
The South Sudanese government has given the national elections commission the go-ahead to start preparing for next year's presidential and parliamentary polls – despite ongoing differences with rebel forces following the signing last month of a new cessation-of-hostilities deal.
"We are convinced beyond doubt that the rebels are not serious to bring peace to the country, and, for this reason, we have decided to go on with the running of our government," Information Minister Michael Makuei told Anadolu Agency, pointing out that the polls were slated to be held sometime before July 9.
Makuei said the decision had been taken at a Tuesday cabinet meeting after rebels loyal to sacked vice-president Riek Machar appeared to backtrack on a deal signed last month in Addis Ababa under the mediation of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc.
The move came amid increased uncertainty regarding the South Sudanese peace process.
The country has seen months of fighting between government forces and Machar's rebels, with the latter denying that they had signed onto a "Cessation-of-Hostilities Matrix" that IGAD mediators hope would pave the way for a permanent peace deal.
Both the government and IGAD insist that the rebels signed onto the "matrix" – which covers security, social and economic arrangements, as well as political and constitutional issues on the ground – on the margins of a recent IGAD summit in Addis Ababa.
The rebel camp, for its part, says it merely "recommitted" to a January 23 cessation-of-hostilities agreement.
The rebels also accuse the Djibouti-based IGAD of harboring "bias" towards the Juba government after IGAD leaders signed a protocol calling on South Sudan's warring rivals to iron out major sticking points – on the economic, political and security fronts – within 45 days.
The protocol gives South Sudanese President Salva Kiir the right to remain in power in a future transitional government of national unity, while the opposition would hold the office of prime minister.
It also provides that, in the next election that will end the transition period, the prime minister shall not run for the presidency. But it leaves the issue of power sharing to future negotiations.
Rebel representatives slammed the protocol as "a bad document" that "only serves the interests of the government."
In response, Makuei said Juba had decided to go ahead with elections as planned.
"The rebels have rejected the [IGAD] summit proposal for the transitional government. Should we wait for them [to hold elections]?" the minister asked.
"This is why the government has directed the national elections commission to come up with the timetable for elections and the Ministry of Finance to avail all the necessary resources to them," Makuei added.
The minister said that the government had decided to shelve earlier plans to hold the elections after holding a national census.
"The national population census will not be conducted, but the elections commission will use the 2010 constituencies for registration and the conduct of elections next year," Makuei said.
"The constitution says the mandate of the current government expires on July 8, 2015; therefore, by July 9, the newly-elected assembly and the president should take up office," the minister added.
Regarding the possible formation of a transitional government to facilitate a peace deal with the rebels, Makuei said that the notion depended on the outcome of peace talks.
"If peace is reached, yes, we shall continue with its outcome; but if the rebels continue to renege on the process, we shall go on with elections," he said.
"This is why the government has sat down and decided. We cannot let the behavior of the rebels stop us from running our government," the minister asserted.
"People need peace and people need a running government. Should we put everything on hold for that? Our people need services," said Makuei.Last Mod: 05 Eylül 2014, 15:53