South Sudan: Defence of Constitutionalism May Just Secure the Power of the Powerful

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Changes to the constitutional framework made since the CPA have increased the powers of the president. The transitional constitution also provided the president with wide reaching powers, for example through the authority to dissolve state governments and declare the state of emergency without the consultation of the legislature.

The use of these excessive powers has not only been met with great concern among civil society groups and the political opposition, but increasingly disgruntled parts of the political elite.

The authoritative reshuffle of the national cabinet by President Kiir in July and August is a point in case. Using the powers awarded to him by the transitional constitution, the President sacked unruly members of the government and political rivals, such as the former Minister of cabinet affairs Deng Alor and the former Vice President Riek Machar. Earlier in January 2013 Salva Kiir had already dismissed Lakes state governor Chol Tong Mayay, followed by the removal of Unity state Governor Taban Deng Gai in July 2013, without providing any good cause - Kiir didn't even make an effort to justify his position along constitutional lines.

These manoeuvres have provided a suitable basis for the mobilisation of political and armed opposition among the wider population and have contributed considerably to the renewed split within the SPLM.

Taben Deng Gai for example has taken a prominent role in criticizing the President Kiir's authoritarian leadership before the onset of armed violence, and now represents forces loyal to Riek Machar in the cease fire negotiations in Addis Ababa.

While a clear link between the outbreak of armed violence and the recent disgruntlement with Kiir's manoeuvres will be difficult to prove, there is no doubt that Kiir's former allies now pursue their political campaigns on military grounds.

Defending Constitutionalism, but for what?

The threat of a coup d'état is today much more real than at the outbreak of violence on 15th December 2013. However, to speak out against a possible unconstitutional change of government in South Sudan requires grappling with a more complex truth than the immediate danger of a regime change: That South Sudan currently has no constitutional order to rely upon.

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