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Did Enough Lawmakers Vote on South Sudan National Security Bill?

South Sudan's National Assembly

The speaker of South Sudan's National Assembly said Thursday enough lawmakers were present in parliament to constitute a quorum and make the passage of the controversial national security bill legally binding.

But one of the lawmakers who walked out of the Assembly before the vote on Wednesday, to protest some of the bill’s provisions, said that is not the case.

Assembly speaker Manasse Magok Rundial said a majority of the chamber’s 323 lawmakers were present at the start of yesterday’s sitting, when the national security bill was passed.

‘’The number of MPS who attended yesterday was, 165 plus fifteen... The physical presence was 165," Magok said.

But Henry Odowar, a Member of Parliament representing Eastern Equatoria state, disputed Magok’s figures.

Odowar and several other lawmakers walked out of the parliamentary session, to protest the bill, which they say gives security officials excessive powers, including the right to arrest suspected criminals without a warrant.

With six members of the opposition SPLM-DC and lawmakers from the three states of Central, Western and Eastern Equatoria walking out of the chamber yesterday, Odowar there had to have been far fewer lawmakers present for the session than Magok had calculated.

‘’Eighty-seven registered and when people started walking out, I am pretty sure less than 60 were now the people who passed the bill,’’ he said.

South Sudan’s transitional constitution defines a quorum – or the minimum number of lawmakers needed for a vote to be considered legitimate – as more than half of the members. The constitution also says that for the National Assembly to pass a bill or make a decision on an issue, a majority of the members present and voting, must vote for it.

Odowar said the parliamentary session where the security bill was passed was rushed, especially given the opposition to the bill.

He said MPs opposed to the bill had asked for more time to look through and deliberate it, but they were told that, "... you know, the quorum was OK and it should continue," Odowar said.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the bill not to be passed. It still has to be signed by President Salva Kiir before it becomes law.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the  South Sudan In Focus radio program.
    Before joining VOA, John worked in Nairobi, Kenya where he established the first independent radio station (Sudan Radio Service) for the people of Sudan. He has covered several civil wars both in Sudan and South Sudan and has been engaged in the production of civic education materials for creating awareness about post conflict issues facing Sudanese and South Sudanese. John has interviewed South Sudan President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, Vice President Wani Igga, leader of Sudan’s Umma Party Sadiq Al Mahdi in addition to other senior United Nations and U.S government officials in South Sudan and Washington. His travels have taken him across to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, DRC Congo and parts East Africa where he reported on the South Sudanese diaspora and the challenges facing them.
    A South Sudanese national, John enjoys listening to music from all over the world, reads academic books, watches documentaries and listens to various radio stations on the internet.  You can follow John on Twitter at @Abusukon

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