Action needed now for timely, credible elections next year, says top UN official, Nicholas Haysom
CENTRAL EQUATORIA - A race against time has begun in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, as it looks toward completing its democratic transition by holding free, fair, and credible elections in December 2024.
Despite the clock ticking down, foundational tasks necessary for South Sudanese to head to the polls remain incomplete.
Intercommunal violence, too, continues to surge coupled with increasing pressure on scarce resources, as tens of thousands continue to enter the country through border areas, fleeing fighting in neighbouring Sudan.
Against this backdrop of multiple challenges, Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) briefed members of the press today in the capital city, Juba.
“With only 17 months remaining on the Roadmap timelines before elections in 2024, I repeat what I had said in an earlier press conference, that 2023 is a ‘make or break’ year,” said the top UN official.
“Key decisions and actions must be made now have to be made to pave the way for holding peaceful, inclusive, and credible elections next year.”
Chief among these, according to SRSG Haysom, is the need to reconstitute three essential bodies, namely, the National Constitutional Review Commission, the National Elections Commission, and the Political Parties Council.
Finalizing transitional security arrangements; progressing the permanent constitution-making process; and creating civic and political spaces where every citizen is free to debate and engage on the political and constitutional options South Sudan is facing, without fear, are other necessary prerequisites.
“Simply holding elections is not enough - the credibility, transparency and inclusivity of the process is what brings legitimacy. This includes that political parties must be able to register and campaign freely; a civil society that will serve as extended arms for civic education and act as an observer watchdog of the process. It includes a media that can report on the process and give space to the variety of voices and opinions for voters to make informed choices,” stated the SRSG.
Mr Haysom reiterated UNMISS’ ongoing support, upon request by the Government of South Sudan, to electoral and constitution-making processes together with regional partners such as the African Union and IGAD.
Critically, the Head of UNMISS highlighted the impact of the Sudan crisis on South Sudan.
“The war in Sudan dominates regional and global attention, while South Sudan bears some of the brunt of this crisis. Food prices have increased, lowering the ability of vulnerable households to access food and meet basic requirements, while reduced cross-border trade has led to localized scarcity of food commodities,” he said.
As per latest counts, some 190,000 entrants have been recorded, the overwhelming majority of whom are South Sudanese, revealed SRSG Haysom.
Given rising numbers, the humanitarian community has called for urgent funding to be able to provide onward transportation from border areas for people seeking refuge from the Sudan conflict.
Worryingly, this daily influx of conflict-affected people heightens the potential for violence.
“The congestion and increased competition over scarce resources could exacerbate existing intercommunal tensions between the returnees and host communities and between some of the returnee communities and this needs to be averted. UNMISS has intensified patrols and reinforced its military presence in Renk to mitigate and prevent any outbreak of violence,” stated the Head of the UN Peacekeeping mission.
Additionally, Mr Haysom spoke about the mission’s ongoing efforts to protect civilians in and around Malakal, Upper Nile, where the impact of last month’s clashes in the UN Protection Site on communities is still palpable; its proactive response to reported escalations in Jonglei and Greater Pibor; and warned of continued cattle-related conflict in the Equatorias.
In conclusion, Mr. Haysom highlighted the pressing need within South Sudan to deepen mutual trust between communities and their leaders, build common purpose and a shared vision of the future.
“I believe there will be international willingness to support the peace process and the elections if there are demonstrable actions by the principal stakeholders in those elections and the right frameworks to allow for the receipt of such assistance," he said.
"But key decisions about electoral, constitutional and security structures must be made urgently; and these decisions do not require special additional resources. Success in this area will persuade donors and international partners that a peaceful and secure South Sudan is a viable place for investment and support.”