South Sudan capable of holding elections if key obstacles are overcome: UN

The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Nicholas Haysom on Tuesday said that the country can hold elections in December if key legal, security and logistical hurdles are overcome by the transitional unity government.

By Benjamin Takpiny

 The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Nicholas Haysom on Tuesday said that the country can hold elections in December if key legal, security and logistical hurdles are overcome by the transitional unity government.

“As we pause here decisions are needed on the type of elections to be held. Consensus must be reached on a realistic electoral calendar, taking into account operational, logistical, legal, and security issues. Transitional Security Arrangements must be finalized, an electoral security plan must be agreed, and the Necessary Unified Forces deployed to provide a secure environment,” Haysom said during press conference in Juba.

He said  that the country can choose a path that gives people the opportunity to participate in peaceful and credible elections or it can continue in the direction of persistently delayed political and peace processes.

 “South Sudan is at a crossroad. This country can now choose a path that gives people the opportunity to participate in peaceful and credible elections. And there are strong indications that South Sudanese want elections. Around 90% of people interviewed in UNMISS Perception Survey said that elections are important to them, and they intend to vote. Civil society and academics are also advocating for this outcome,” Haysom said.

He said that UNMISS’s view has always been that elections can be held in December, but only if the country’s leaders take urgent action to overcome key obstacles.

“My previous remarks regarding the capacity of the country to host elections related directly to the conditions that within applicable and the failure to properly stand up the institutions which are necessary and which we now see being established,” Haysom said.

 He added that intervention is needed at the highest level to resolve tensions in northern Unity State between the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in opposition  (SPLA-IO) as well as the inter-communal violence in pockets of the country, and in the fragile situation interface between Dinka Twic, Ngok Dinka, and Nuer communities in Warrap and Abyei.

“This conflict is causing real harm to communities as well as inhibiting an environment of open political competition, which would be a vital part of a healthy democracy,” he said.

 Haysom said that UNMISS is doing all it can to mitigate the effects of violence in Warrap, adding it’s  sister mission the UN Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA) is doing the same in Abyei, where two peacekeepers were killed recently while protecting and rescuing injured civilians.

UNISFA is also sheltering 2000 displaced people in its bases because of the volatility of the situation.

“It is encouraging to see meetings on this issue between President Kiir and First Vice President Machar, and the key stakeholders gathering for high-level dialogues in Juba this week. Solutions are urgently needed,” Haysom said.

 He said that the UN family is intensively engaging in coordination with the South Sudanese government on the issue of refugees and returnees fleeing the violence in Sudan.

 “The impact of this conflict is being felt across the Horn of Africa and requires our full engagement to mitigate its humanitarian consequences and even to end the war. It also highlights the grave danger of multiple armies occupying the same geographic space and places a premium on the need to fully implement transitional security arrangements here in South Sudan. This is why UNMISS is actively assisting the Joint Defense Board by providing logistical support, transport to training centres, and assisting with security sector reform wherever asked,” Haysom said.

 He commended the transitional unity government for the progress made on the political front, including the swearing-in of the National Elections Commission, the National Constitutional Review Commission and the Political Parties Council.

“Registration of political parties has begun, although it’s disconcerting to see how high the costs are associated with this process. But we note the need to ensure a level political playing field where there is healthy competition and choices for all voters. It is also important that senior public servants refrain from associating themselves with political parties in order to protect the neutrality of their important institutions,” Haysom said.

 He said that UNMISS is supporting these institutions by helping to create work plans and budgets, developing a Political Parties Code of Conduct, and preparing for the reconstitution of State Elections Committees.

Haysom said that they acknowledge the significant recent decision of the cabinet to allocate resources to these bodies, adding that they remain eager to see the actual disbursement of the money as concrete evidence of the parties’ political will to progress this work.

 “We welcome the Presidency’s recent engagement with key civil society actors on election preparations. This helps ensure inclusivity, strengthens the understanding of diverse views on the direction the country should take, and supports constructive compromises on critical provisions of the peace agreement,” he said.

“It is easy to list problems. It’s harder to find solutions and take action to implement the decisions made,”Haysom said.

He said that UNMISS is dedicating significant time and resources to encouraging the parties to make good on their promises relating to election preparations.

“If the elections are not held with close observance of the peace agreement, it will come under attack for not being adhered to. And if that agreement, the peace agreement itself ultimately fails, it will undermine peace and stability, and risk a return to widespread violence,” he said.

 “When we stress the importance of properly implementing election preparations, these are not measures being imposed by the UN or the international community. These are the obligations that the parties agreed to themselves, and with each other, their internal South Sudanese promises that we are simply helping to identify and to realize,” Haysom added.

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