South Sudanese lawmakers voted Tuesday to delay elections and extend the terms of all elected officials, including President Salva Kiir, the National Assembly and state governors, by three years -- a year longer than the Cabinet called for last month.
Thomas Wani Kundu, the Chairperson of the Natioinal Assembly's Information Committee, said more than 270 members of parliament from both houses voted in an extraordinary session of parliament in favor of the motion, which he said was Mr. Kiir's initiative.
Kundu said the terms of state legislators will also be extended for three years if the bill becomes law.
Kundu said the bill will be sent to Mr. Kiir's office on Wednesday. He is expected to sign it.
The vote came five weeks after Information Minister Michael Makuei announced that national elections, which were supposed to be held at the end of June, were being delayed two years. Makuei also said the Cabinet had decided to extend the terms of the president, the National Assembly, and governors' by two years.
Kundu noted that the terms of the lawmakers end next week, and President Kiir’s term ends on July 8. He said the plan put forward by lawmakers on Tuesday would let the parliamentarians stay in office until the end of December 2017, with elections planned for March or April 2018.
Kundu said delaying elections by an extra year will give South Sudan the time it needs to hold free, fair and well organized elections. In particular, a longer delay will give South Sudan more time to conduct a census before the vote, as required by the transitional constitution, Kundu said.
IGAD power-sharing proposal
Extending the terms of elected officials and delaying national elections is in line with a power-sharing proposal, brokered by IGAD, the regional bloc that has been leading peace talks for South Sudan for nearly 15 months.
President Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the power sharing proposal in the early hours of February 2. The proposal calls, among other things, for elections to be delayed until December 2017 and for national lawmakers' and the president’s terms to be extended by 30 months from July 9th of this year, until January 2018.
The United States said it would not support elections in June of this year, and opposition leaders and ordinary citizens of South Sudan called for peace to be restored before millions of dollars are spent on elections.
South Sudan has been mired in conflict since December 2013. The most recent round of negotiations to end the fighting, which has forced 2 million people from their homes and claimed thousands of lives, stalled early this month without an agreement to end the violence.