BY: Gabriel Bul Yak & John Deng Jok, AUSTRALIA, AUG/03/2013, SSN;
South Sudan’s President Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit exercised his ultimate powers by removing deputy, Dr Riak Machar and relieving cabinet ministers. The move has sent different reactions to general public in South Sudan and around the world, and has triggered debate on whether the president’s decision presented an opportunity for government to come clean on many criticisms or it is just another recipe for political disaster for the SPLM party.
This article is intended to explore and analyse the opportunities and the threats of the president recent decision. In doing so, these words are opinions in which the writers choose to maintain impartiality by considering both sides of the argument.
1- Opportunity to revive the SPLM party
There are always two sides of the story, and if you are an academic thinker, you need to analyse both sides of the coin. In this regard, president Kiir decision to sack his deputy, relieving cabinet ministers, as well as downsizing the government could be perceived by analysts as significant political moves due to many scenarios:
First, Kiir and the SPLM party have been heavily criticised for losing the vision of the SPLM/SPLA and widespread corruption within the government, slow economic development, tribal conflicts and oil shut down crisis.
At the moment, there are mixed reactions from general public in South Sudan in which others has praised and welcomed the bold decision made by president as a way forward to bring an end to the continuous SPLM party ranking infighting, while others expressed their ultimate disappointment blaming president’s decision to remove his Vice as unjustified.
In contrast, relieving cabinet ministers through the dissolution of the government can break up the corruption circle that has bred within the country since the implementation of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to date.
Regardless of who has been removed, this is an opportunity for SPLM to start over again, and re-energise taking all the criticisms and lessons learned over the years into account to improve the party’s image by appointing new talented ministers based on qualifications and credentials or technocrats as proposed by president early this year, but not based on ranks or favouritism. If Kiir can do this, then SPLM vision of liberation, prosperity and peace can be restored.
Secondly, the president’s decision to beg his cabinet’s members to return $4 billion in a letter leaked out by media last year has no doubt done considerable damage to the president’s reputation. However, his letter was received differently by the international communities which questioned Kiir ability to run the country effectively without harbouring corruptions, protecting loyalists or caring less about poor citizens of the country.
His recent moves to dissolve the government can be seen as redemption to clean up the party and improve his prospect for 2015 election. Though one can’t assumed all cabinets removed have corrupted, but the fact that no one knows who is corrupted and who is not, warrants the president decision to dismiss them all to give room for fresh start if that was the intention for the president to restore SPLM credibility to meet citizens’ expectations.
Thirdly, the fact that Dr Machar is more educated than Kiir can’t be denied but we should also remind ourselves that there are good number of PhD holders in South Sudan who are desperate to serve the country as vice president.
Since the government was formed, there have been increasing tensions between Machar and Kiir about the way the country should be run given the fact that each of them has different ideologies dating back during the struggle. These differences on ideological formulation are still creating divisions within the SPLM party.
In any democratic society, the vice president assists the President in running the country by liaising with Executives Committee. If there are identified differences between Kiir and his deputy, they should find ways to discuss their differences instead of vice president running his own campaign in different countries to derail his own boss while it is not even election time.
This justifies Kiir decision to dismiss his vice and appoint a new vice president. Hypothetically, the line-up without Machar as the vice would provides a better outcome for the party and gives Kiir confidence to remain hopeful that SPLM will again survive as it did when Machar defected during the revolution struggle.
If SPLM had survived without John Garang, one can hope that it can also survive without Riak and Pagan or Kiir himself in the government.
Fourth, Kiir decision to retire some generals within SPLA and police is also an opportunity for SPLM party to live up to the task of conventional army and restructuring SPLA to become young and strong to counter any challenges of 21th century.
It could also be due to fear of an Arab spring especially the military action in Egypt. This move could be viewed as precaution to reduce military power build up in South Sudan which might otherwise lead to unforeseen ripple effect of military coup in the future.
Fifth, relieving Dr Machar could be seen as an opportunity for Dr Machar to form his own party to hold the government accountable by revealing all mistakes the SPLM party has covered up since the formation of transitional government rule by the SPLM.
In most democratic countries, opposition parties keep governments in check and accountable. However, lack of a strong opposition party in South Sudan may lead to dictatorship in the near future if Dr Macher fails to quit the SPLM party.
Either he can decide to remain in the SPLM and shut up or forms his own party and hold the government accountable for its weakness and loss of Dr Garang’s vision which might also give him a shot of victory over Kiir in 2015 election.
Political disaster for SPLM party
Kiir decision has triggered many questions about the nature of South Sudan democratic system.
If “democracy is defined as a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under free electoral system,” (Dictionary), then why did the president remove governors who were elected by the people?
This is contradicting to those accusations spelled out in the presidential decree that there are some cabinet members that have abused their powers while the president did the same by removing elected governors.
In democratic system, the state can petition the governor and recalls new election should the petition approved by the state legislative assembly. As stipulated in Article 101 (r) that the president shall:
“Remove a state Governor and/or dissolve a state legislative assembly in the event of a crisis in the state that threatens national security and territorial integrity.”
However, this specific section and other parts of the constitution just to mention a few have raised a lot of criticism about the nature and the validation of the entire constitution.
To compare South Sudanese constitution with other modern constitutions around the world, in what country can a president has such powers to remove elected officials “without approval by a two-thirds majority of the National Legislative Assembly?”
In contrast, the constitution seems to reflect the reality of a one-party rule. If this action was justified by the South Sudan democratic constitution, then what’s the point of electing States Governors through democratic means in the first place?
The fact that South Sudan is a more polarizing society in Africa, any political decision made by one person can always result into tribal division. President Kiir decision to relieve Machar may refuel deep-rooted hatred between the Dinka and the Nuer.
To make matter worse, suspension of the SPLM secretary-general Pagum Amum who is from minority Shilluk (Chollo) tribe may reinforces the claim that Dinka, who are the majority, control the power in South Sudan.
In conjunction with Pagum statement on Facebook that “Dictatorship is in the making” clearly suggested that the majority tribes decide what to do. People of South Sudan may wonder if the status quo is true or the claim is being exaggerated by political opportunists.
Even if these people are replaced later on by bringing replacement from their own tribes, it may do great damage to an already sick nation that is on the edge of collapsing.
Furthermore, Kiir’s action may add to already existing criticism about the direction the country is heading toward. Recently South Sudan was ranked fourth after Congo, Sudan, and Somali in failed states index by Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine (2013).
Depending on how this decision will play out in the near future, it may add some weight on social, political and economic impact and this could push South Sudan further on to the top of the failed states index.
Since South Sudan transitional constitution failed to provide clear limit on presidential terms, there is possibility Kiir will follow the footsteps of some African leaders such as Muamur Gadhafi, Daniel Arop Moi and Yoweri Museveni, who have clinked to powers for so long periods of time.
In this regard, Kiir’s decision could be viewed as politically motivated to get rid of his political rivals and nominate new loyalists so that he can remain in power as long as he wants. If this is true, then democracy in South Sudan will take long time to materialise.
President Kiir was credited of his amnesty policy to reunite the whole South Sudan. A policy that was praised and welcomed by the international community and people of South Sudan after renegade militia general Paulino Matip joined the government and was followed by other rebel leaders.
Finally, the president recent decision may create more divisions within the party and in the country where democracy has not yet been fully put into practice. In reality, such decision may be misunderstood and could trigger more tribal insurgency in the country. On the other hand, Dr Machar has been praised for his quick confirmation on Facebook that they have chosen to handle this issue peacefully and urged people to remain calm. We hope he and the rest honour their words to avoid repeat of 1990s.
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