South Sudan to Cancel Presidential Election Amid Civil War

South Sudan’s government plans to cancel presidential elections scheduled for June 30 and extend its own term by two years amid efforts to end the conflict in the oil-producing country.

“In our quest for peace, the cabinet has decided to call off the elections and extend the lifespan of the elected positions so that we give peace a chance,” Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters today in the capital, Juba. The main opposition party welcomed the move.

President Salva Kiir and the legislature’s tenures will be extended until July 9, 2017, Lueth said. Lawmakers will vote next week on a constitutional amendment for the government to continue without elections, he said in a phone interview.

South Sudan has been engulfed by conflict since December 2013, when a power struggle within the ruling party turned violent. After Kiir arrested rivals for allegedly plotting a coup and ethnic Nuer accused soldiers loyal to the president of targeting them, commanders rebelled in three states. Riek Machar, Kiir’s deputy until July 2013 and a Nuer, fled the capital and became the rebel leader.

‘Right Thing’

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change, the country’s largest opposition party, backed the postponement. South Sudanese opposition parties said last month they would seek a court ruling for the election to be declared unconstitutional because of the war and the need for a census to be held before the vote.

“This is the right thing to do,” said Mahjoub Biel, spokesman for the SPLM-DC, by phone from Juba. “As political parties we want peace to be achieved first and then after, we go for democratic free and fair elections.”

The fighting has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced about 2 million to flee their homes, according to the UN.

Holding elections would have been a “logistical nightmare” and the winners would have lacked legitimacy because of the civil war, said Jok Madut Jok, the former executive director of the Juba-based Sudd Institute, a research center. “This is the only logical thing that has been done.”

The decision shows the government realizes the need to share power with Machar’s rebel movement, he said. “There seems to be a strong desire to compromise and create a government of national unity,” Jok said by phone from Washington. “If this war continues any longer than it has gone, it’s going to be a serious problem for the country, the economy is collapsing.”

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the deputy chair of a foreign relations committee for Machar’s movement, said the government has no constitutional right to extend its term, and is showing no sign of compromising on power-sharing or other issues.

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