South Sudan Lawmakers Consider Keeping President Kiir Until 2021

South Sudan leader Salva Kiir Mayardit

Nearly seven years to the day that South Sudan was born, it wants to extend the term of President Salva Kiir and the transitional parliament by three years. Some see the plan as a ploy in a faltering peace process.

The bill introduced by the government seeks to amend five sections of the constitution. It calls for the term of the national transitional parliament and the office of the president to be extended from August 12 to August 12 2021. The terms of the first vice president, state legislatures and state governors would also be extended.

Second reading in 30 days

The draft law is being reviewed by the parliament's technical committee and is due for a second reading in parliament in 30 days time. Many lawmakers, including those from the opposition, seem to have welcomed the bill. However, many citizens think the move is meant to frustrate the ongoing peace negotiations.

It comes as Kiir and his political arch rival, former vice president Riek Machar, repeatedly fail to broker a lasting peace. South Sudan descended into civil war after Kiir accused Machar of trying to grab power.

Less than three years earlier, South Sudan had split from Sudan, becoming the world's newest nation on July 9 2011.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the fighting and about 4 million people displaced in the country of 12 million.

'Permanent' ceasefire

The government has gained the upper hand militarily while the opposition has splintered since a 2015 peace deal collapsed in mid-2016. At the time, Machar fled the country in the wake of fresh clashes between the army and his bodyguards in the capital Juba.

Last week, the two leaders agreed on a "permanent" ceasefireand the opening of humanitarian corridors in the landlocked country. They also agreed to the release of prisoners and withdrawal of forces. The meeting took place in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Machar had emerged for talks with Kiir in Ethiopia last month following a lengthy absence from the country and exclusion from the peace process, reportedly at the behest of the African Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

The South Sudanese people looked on with skepticism as the latest talks between Kiir and Machar took place behind closed doors, with some seeing the effort to amend the constitution as a means of stalling the process that is meant to culminate in the formation of a government.

"There will be a slowdown in the peace process because the government will think that 'okay, now our term has been extended so why negotiate for peace?'" Dimo Silva, a resident of Juba, told DW.

"Why can't we just struggle and find a way of keeping to the system because [by] extending their term they will have a ground to debate or to argue that they are legitimate because the people still want them?" Silva said.

Lawmakers back change

The leader of the opposition in the current parliament, Gabriel Roricjur, backs the the bill. "We think, as other parties, this is a legal procedure and the government should have a new mandate until the time the agreement will be signed," he told DW.

James Okuk, a professor of political science at the University of Juba, told DW he thinks the introduction of the bill by the government is intended as a signal to the rebels to compromise in peace talks.

"If you drag on with this agreement, there will be a vacuum. No, we are not allowing that vacuum, we will just breach that vacuum by extending our term of office and we will be there for three years and you remain cold outside. So, you better speed up the compromise and agree with us on the revitalized government," he said.

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