The prospects for free and fair elections in South Sudan in 2024 are increasingly being questioned. A series of recent reports and statements from various sources, including the United Nations, paint a concerning picture of the country’s current political and security situation. This analysis delves into the complexities surrounding South Sudan’s upcoming elections, exploring the challenges and the key factors undermining the possibility of a credible electoral process.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been plagued by internal conflict since its independence in 2011. The ongoing power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar has led to civil war, creating deep divisions within the country. These internal conflicts have severely impacted the nation’s political stability and governance, casting doubt on the feasibility of organizing free and fair elections. The persistent insecurity in South Sudan poses a significant obstacle to conducting elections. The presence of armed groups and the continued political tensions make it a challenge to ensure a safe environment for voters.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has warned that the country is not in a position to hold secure elections due to these unresolved security issues. There’s a significant lack of consensus among South Sudan’s political factions.
The two main factions, led by President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, have not reached an agreement on critical issues such as the structure of the electoral system and the political roadmap leading to the elections. This political deadlock is a major hurdle in the path to credible elections. South Sudan lacks the necessary electoral infrastructure to conduct a nationwide election. Issues such as voter registration, election logistics, and the establishment of independent electoral bodies are yet to be adequately addressed. The absence of these key elements raises questions about the logistical feasibility of the elections.
International observers, including the United Nations, doubt South Sudan’s preparedness for the 2024 elections. The head of UNMISS, Haysom, has highlighted the lack of a conducive environment for free and fair elections, citing the current political and security situation. The UN’s assessment of the situation in South Sudan is bleak. According to UNMISS, the country is not ready to hold credible elections, primarily due to unresolved political conflicts and security issues. This assessment is critical as it comes from an organization deeply involved in the peacekeeping and stabilization efforts in the country.
The international community, including regional powers and global organizations, is urged to actively facilitate dialogue and consensus-building among South Sudanese political factions. Their involvement is crucial in creating a political environment conducive to fair elections.
UNMISS has a crucial role in facilitating a conducive environment for elections. It urges all political parties in South Sudan to engage in free campaigning and to work towards resolving the existing political impasse. The mission’s efforts ensure that all parties have an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
Despite the bleak outlook, some steps can be taken to improve the chances of a successful electoral process in South Sudan. The immediate priority should be to enhance security and stability in the country. This involves disarmament, demobilization, reintegration of armed groups, and strengthening the rule of law. Efforts must be made to foster dialogue and consensus among the political factions. A national dialogue inclusive of all stakeholders, including civil society and marginalized groups, is essential to build a unified vision for the country’s future. International support and expertise can be pivotal in developing South Sudan’s electoral infrastructure. This includes technical assistance in voter registration, election monitoring, and building independent electoral bodies.
As the first quarter of 2024 approaches, South Sudanese parties, leaders, and stakeholders face the challenge of making critical decisions to pave the way for credible elections. The coming months are crucial for establishing the necessary groundwork for conducting elections that reflect the will of the South Sudanese people.
Batool Akhtar is a Research Associate located in Islamabad. The author’s primary emphasis is on current Geopolitical topics.