South Sudan’s recently fired Vice President Riek Machar says President Salva Kiir has been taking steps toward dictatorship, after he dismissed his entire cabinet last week. Machar is now focusing on winning the presidency in 2015.
The former vice president does not dispute President Kiir’s decision to dismiss his cabinet. Speaking to VOA from Juba, Machar acknowledged that he had been at odds with the government for some time.
“I have been critical lately of the performance of the government,” he admitted. “I have pointed out these issues, the rampant corruption, the rise of tribalism, the insecurity.”
The president’s move underscores divisions within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party. Kiir also suspended SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum, who represents the country in ongoing negotiations with Sudan.
Machar said the president is mistreating Amum by restricting his movements and barring him from speaking to the press.
“This is denying him his rights,” he said, “this is a step toward repression and dictatorship.”
The president is expected to name a new cabinet soon, and has already appointed his spokesman, Marial Benjamin, to be the next foreign minister. Before his appointment was announced, Benjamin said in an interview with VOA the cabinet reshuffle was long overdue and would not come as a surprise to many South Sudanese.
Party officials said the move was intended to reduce the size of government.
The U.S. State Department has expressed concern that the dismissal of Machar, as well as several deputy ministers and police brigadiers, poses a “risk to stability” in the world’s youngest nation.
Machar and Kiir come from separate ethnic groups, and some analysts have speculated the rift between the two men could worsen tensions in their communities, or cause a split within the military.
Machar said he does not expect any violence, and that the SPLM is a “party that transcends tribal lines.”
The former vice president noted that from this point on, he plans to contest the leadership of the SPLM, and then run for president in 2015.