Juba — South Sudan's national legislative assembly has backed down on one of its major provisions on the conduct of business, citing intimidation by president Salva Kiir, who recently warned he would unilaterally dismiss elected lawmakers unless they supported his actions.
Kiir appointed the former speaker of parliament, James Wani Igga, as the new vice-president on 23 August, exactly 30 days after he sacked his former deputy, Riek Machar, and dissolved the entire cabinet.
At a meeting with the caucus a day after the announcement, Kiir urged members to endorse Igga's appointment or risk being removed from their positions.
On the same day lawmakers unanimously endorsed Igga's appointment, without adhering to the house's conduct of business or any further debate on his credentials.
In accordance with the parliamentary conduct of business, the speaker should have officially resigned his position in parliament and a new speaker elected before lawmakers vet the appointment.
"No business shall be transacted in the assembly, other than the election of the speaker, when the office of the speaker is vacant", reads article 5 (3) of the conduct of business of the assembly.
However, during the endorsement of Igga as the new vice-president the reverse had occurred, reportedly due to pressure exerted by the president on the parliament.
Presided over by deputy speaker Daniel Awet Akot, the national legislative assembly on Monday continued to table before parliament new motions for deliberation, again ignoring procedural requirement for the election of a new speaker.
Richard K. Mulla, an MP representing Mundri West county in Western Equatoria state, criticised the violation of the conduct of business, saying he suspected the executive leadership of interfering in the affairs of the assembly with the aim to impose a hand-picked speaker.
"The sitting of yesterday [Monday] was illegal and invalid", he said, arguing that a new speaker should have been elected first before any further parliamentary sittings.
Mulla, who is a senior lawyer by profession, said from Monday he was boycotting parliamentary sittings until the appointment of a new speaker.
Another member of parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that the parliament was successfully intimidated and bullied to the point that it forgot its constitutional obligations.
He said non-adherence to the conduct of business came as a direct result of the president's threats to dissolve the parliament or dismiss individual MPs.
"The parliament, which was last week applauded by the people it represents for seriously vetting and rejecting the appointment of Telar Ring Deng as justice minister, is now back to its disgusted role as a rubber stamp for the president or the executive", he said, adding that the president would likely continue to use threats and intimidation to silence it.
Meanwhile, Kiir has asked members of parliament from the former Greater Upper Nile region to nominate a person to replace Igga for the position of the speaker of parliament, saying he would in turn recommend the nominee to the wider parliament for endorsement.
Last week, Kiir also met with the Greater Equatoria parliamentary caucus and consulted with them before Igga's appointment, asking them to mobilise the rest of parliament to endorse him.
Sources close to representatives from the Greater Upper Nile said there are a number of nominees, with former minister of justice John Luk Jok believed to be at the top of the list.
However, little known Unity state MP Magok Rundial is also rumoured to be Kiir's choice and the president may have already been galvanising parliamentary support behind the scenes against John Luk and others.
Although touted a as a possible replacement for Igga, Machar has declined to contest for the position of speaker.
Machar's press secretary, James Gatdet Dak, confirmed Machar's position to Sudan Tribune, saying the former vice-president had no interest in contesting the position.
CABINET GIVEN THREE-MONTH ULTIMATUM
Kiir has also warned that new cabinet ministers must prove their abilities within three months after taking office or risk being fired.
He made the remarks during the swearing in ceremony for Igga, saying that only those who are "lucky" will remain in office for six months or more.
Critics say the president has sweeping powers granted to him by the transitional constitution to fire anybody at will, including the elected governors, despite varying interpretations of the terms under which he can exercise such powers.
Observers close to the decision-making circles of Kiir's leadership say the president may decide to expand his new leaner cabinet in order to accommodate some heavy weights from the party.
The president has reportedly been trying to reconcile with some of the party's senior leaders whom he sacked from the cabinet in the recent reshuffle and may bring them back in order to buy support against his political rivals, including Machar.
Machar maintains he will work to politically unseat Kiir from the leadership position in the 2015 elections, criticising him for not tackling issues of corruption, tribalism, insecurity, economy, international relations and the party's loss of vision and direction.
Kiir has accused Machar of insubordination, while at the same time acknowledging the challenges facing the new nation, promising to correct them if given a third chance in office.
SPLM STRUCTURES ABANDONED
There are also growing concerns among some leading members of the ruling party that the current structures of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) have been deliberately side-lined in the policy decision-making processes.
A member of SPLM politburo said the party should have been consulted right from the time the president wanted to dissolve the cabinet, as well as on the appointment of new personalities to the cabinet.
"Kiir has shown total disregard to the existing structures of the ruling party in decision-making and instead resorted to parliamentary caucuses", he said.
The politburo is the highest executive organ of the SPLM and was formerly responsible for vetting individual nominees before recommending them for certain positions. However, the body has not met since March due to differences within the top leadership.
Four basic documents on the party's constitution, manifesto, code of conduct and rules and regulations were supposed to be passed by the politburo, the national liberation council and the extraordinary convention in order to legally register the SPLM in the new republic.
A regular national convention would then follow this year to elect a new leadership for the 2015 elections.
The SPLM secretary-general, Pagan Amum, has reportedly submitted seven requests to Kiir, calling for a meeting of the politburo to try to resolve issues of concern, but the latter did not respond.
Amum was suspended from his position and is under an investigation for criticising some of Kiir's actions, as well as comments he made on the sacking of Deng Alor Kuol and Kosti Manibe Ngai, the former ministers of cabinet affairs and finance respectively.
However, Kiir last week gave the green light to the party's national secretariat to prepare for a series of meetings between the leadership.
There are fears that Kiir may apply intimidation tactics in order to dissolve he politburo or dismiss some of the leaders that have challenged him, a move that may ultimately result in further political confrontations and even the dismantling of the historical party.