by Denis Elamu
JUBA, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- South Sudan is unlikely to host the much-expected elections in 2018 due to delayed implementation of key election provisions in the the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) to end more than three years of conflict, experts have said.
Experts interviewed by Xinhua in Juba said the transitional unity government (TGoNU) since formation in April last year has not yet expedited the process of setting up the National Constitution Amendment Commission (NCAC) crucial for drafting and reviewing election laws that could affect the 2018 polls scheduled in May.
South Sudan has not had democratic elections since it won independence from Sudan in 2011 after more than two decades of civil war that ended with President Salva Kiir ascending to power through referendum vote, ushering in a transition period in the oil-rich and yet impoverished country.
According to the ARCISS, the NCAC shall in not later than six months enact the National Elections Act (NEA) 2012, reconstitute the National Elections Commission (NEC) which has not yet been done after more than one and half year since the birth of the ARCISS.
The Minister of Information Michael Makuei cast doubt on the probability of holding elections, saying the subject was premature right now to be discussed due to other pressing needs at hand.
"It is premature for us to talk of elections next year," Makuei said, adding that the NCAC will be formed later on to undertake its role.
"The ARCISS says that within the first six months of its signing you have to amend the NEA 2012, and that amendment has not yet been done. Perhaps others who think that elections could be done anytime from now may not have read the peace agreement properly," said Jacob Dut Chol, professor of politics at Juba University.
"The other important thing in the ARCISS says within the first seven months the NEC should be reconstituted again. You reconstitute, restructure it and appoint the commissioners by the President and his First Vice President which has not been done," he added.
"There are very strong caveat to these things of elections, you must ensure there is peace, ceasefire in the country. To do elections you need voters in Upper Nile, Equatoria regions, and genuine peace not just peace you hear in newspapers, but peace that shows there are no gunshots," Chol said.
He added that the prevailing insecurity amid mass displacements in several parts of the country meant population census critical for elections could be difficult to undertake and eventually affect preparations for the upcoming elections.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said there are 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries, besides more than 2 million displaced in UN Protection of Civilians sites.
The last South Sudan census carried out in 2008 put the population of South Sudan at 8 million people.
South Africa-based law expert Remember Miamingi told Xinhua that elections are not peacemaking mechanisms, but could only be conducted until there is peace and security in South Sudan, noting that more than half of the populations are still in Protection of Civilians sites and refugee camps.
He added that elections would also cost millions of dollars for a country that is nearly bankrupt as the TGoNU's requests for donor assistance to support its meager deficit-budget since last year has failed to materialize.
"In fact peace, security, safety and food are the immediate need of South Sudanese. Elections are the immediate need for those struggling to purchase legitimacy," he added.
Miamingi highlighted the need to resuscitate the ARCISS that has suffered setback since renewed clash in July last year.
"I do not see how elections can be held in 2018 in the absence of the implementation of the agreement that called for it in the first place," he revealed.
Juba-based political analyst James Okuk told Xinhua that the TGoNU needs to first incorporate the ARCISS provisions into the transitional constitution 2011 which has so far not happened.
He expressed doubts whether elections could successful be held early next year without silencing the guns.
"It is impossible to conduct any elections considering what we have right now (war). Unless, the government wants to conduct elections in only territories that they control," Okuk added.