South Sudan’s presidential spokesman has denied accusations President Salva Kiir unilaterally extended his mandate for three additional years.
Kiir’s mandate was officially scheduled to end on July 7, but presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny says parliament extended the leader’s mandate in March in accordance with the constitution.
Critics say Kiir unconstitutionally extended his term with support from parliament.
Rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar fighting the government say Kiir’s continued stay in power is illegitimate. Ateny disagreed.
“It wasn’t the issue of whether the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] wanted to lengthen its rule in South Sudan rather it was about the necessity,” said Ateny.
“If Riek Machar leader of the rebels didn’t begin the war, President Salva Kiir and all the parliamentarians would have gone for general election, whereby the people of South Sudan would have been given the opportunity to choose their leaders. But unfortunately, it did not happen because of the war,” he added.
In a message Thursday, U.S National Security Adviser Susan Rice expressed concern about the extension of Kiir’s mandate, saying the administration in Juba squandered its legitimacy.
“Over the past 19 months, the government has abdicated its responsibilities, failed to protect its citizens, and squandered its legitimacy. Instead of negotiating a resolution to the conflict, it has subverted democracy and unilaterally extended its mandate. As the violence drags on, the conflict not only scars the lives of innocent South Sudanese, it threatens to destabilize the wider region,” said Rice.
But Ateny said the rebels are to blame for the country’s ongoing conflict. He said the country could not be run in a void and peaceful elections could not be organized, due to the ongoing conflict between the government and the rebels.
“The extension came as a result of the constitutional mandate of the Republic of South Sudan not of any other country and what we did to extend the tenure of the president within the constitutional mandate of our parliament. So, I don’t know why Ambassador Rice would reject it,” said Ateny.
“What is the alternative? Would the alternative be that the government leave power in vacuum and run into the bush so that South Sudan becomes ungovernable?”
International human rights groups have accused both the government and the rebels of committing human rights violations. The two warring factions have accused each other of violating several peace accords mediated by the East African regional bloc, IGAD to help end the conflict.