South Sudan is postponing national elections that were set for June 30 and extending the terms of President Salva Kiir and the National Assembly by two years, the government announced Friday.
The move is in line with a power-sharing proposal brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and signed at the start of this month by Mr. Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar.
"Bearing in mind this agreement and the situation, and our commitment to agree and operationalize the agreement, the government found it inappropriate to continue with the elections after this," Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters in Juba.
"In our quest for peace, the cabinet decided to call off the elections and extend the life of the elective positions so that we give peace the chance," he said.
Ever since the government announced in December that it had set aside more than half a billion dollars to fund this year's elections, there have been calls for the vote to be delayed until peace has been restored in South Sudan. Parts of the country are still mired in the conflict that erupted in December 2013.
In our quest for peace, the cabinet decided to call off the elections and extend the life... of the elective positions so that we give peace the chance.South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei
The IGAD-brokered power-sharing proposal that was signed by Mr. Kiir and Machar two weeks ago calls for a transitional government of national unity to be set up in South Sudan by July 9 this year. It stipulates that the transitional government will remain in power for 30 months.
It says elections will not be held until the end of the transitional period – which, under the terms of the proposal, would be around December 2017. The IGAD power-sharing pact further calls for the tenure of the National Assembly to be extended from July 9 for 30 months and that the number of lawmakers will be expanded from 332 to 400.
Makuei said Mr. Kiir's and the lawmakers' terms will be extended for two years starting on July 9, the fourth anniversary of South Sudan's birth as an independent nation.
Makuei said that by agreeing to delay the elections and extend the tenures of the president and parliament, the government was showing "...that it is serious and it means peace.” He said the proposals will be sent to the National Assembly for debate next week.
But Machar said the government move "is complicating the attainment of peace."
"What they should have done was ask President Kiir to resign. This is what would bring about peace," he said.
Machar said the two sides have not yet agreed to all the terms of the IGAD proposal. It stipulates, among other things, that Mr. Kiir would continue to head the transitional government, and that current members of parliament would remain in office for the duration of the transitional government.
Machar said he also did not agree with IGAD's proposal to boost the number of lawmakers in the National Assembly by 68 members.
"We were saying we needed even a smaller-sized parliament -- 250. The country has no money to spend on a large parliament," he said.
Ask President Kiir to resign. This is what would bring about peace.Rebel chief Riek Machar
Release rights report
He said that the two sides have yet to agree on key power-sharing issues, including the structure of the executive of the transitional government and the make-up of parliament. And he called for the report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations during South Sudan's conflict to be made public.
The report was supposed to be released at an African Union summit at the end of last month, but was delayed at the last minute.
The U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, and rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused both sides in South Sudan's conflict of committing human rights abuses since December, 2013. Among the alleged rights violations are targeted ethnic killings, sexual violence and the widespread destruction of property.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who chaired the African Union commission that compiled the report, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in September that he had "no doubt that there have been gross violations of human rights in South Sudan" and that both sides committed them.
"No South Sudan leader can claim innocence," he said.
Amnesty International researcher Elizabeth Deng has said that although the rights group has not seen the report, "From what we have heard, (it) names names."