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Southern Sudan Constitutional Review Accused of Excluding Opposition Parties

Opposition parties in southern Sudan are criticizing the government’s initial steps in preparing for independence. Southern Sudan’s president appointed a committee to review the constitution, but political parties and civil society leaders have come out to challenge what they see as the ruling party’s monopoly of the exercise.

The constitutional review was agreed at a convention in October last year in what was seen at the time as an attempt by southern Sudan’s president Salva Kiir to unite the south ahead of the independence referendum. Nearly all southern political parties were represented at the convention.

Controversy now surrounds the selection of members to the committee tasked with carrying out this constitutional review. Opposition parties and civil society groups say the 24-member committee is dominated by the ruling party, the SPLM.

President Kiir issued a presidential decree last week appointing the minister of legal affairs and constitutional development, John Luk Jok, to lead the committee. In response to the complaints, Jok has said that the decree does not exclude other parties, and noted that the chairman of the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF), Gabriel Changson Chang sits on the committee.

But Changson has just resigned his membership, insisting that opposition parties have been excluded.

“I objected to the membership on several grounds,” Changson said. “One is that the committee was termed to be a technical committee and that I was in the committee as an economist and not presenting my party or other political parties.”

“Secondly, it transpired from the very people who recommended for the formation of the committee that I was representing other parties. I cannot represent other political parties unless we are consulted and we agree on that representation,” he said.

Changson said that his party is holding a dialogue with the SPLM, and that he would participate in the constitutional review again if he sees the committee membership has been broadened.

Members of the local civil society have also spoken against what they see as their deliberate exclusion from the discussions.

“It is not the matter of the ministers alone to draft the constitution for the people,” said civil society leader Isaac Kenyi.

“The constitution is the responsibility of all Sudanese. So excluding the civil society from the list io the ministers who are charged to redraft the interim constitution is regrettable.”

Currently there are 20 members appointed to the review committee, including some ministers of the government of southern Sudan, some members of the Government of Southern Sudan, some members of the legislative assembly and four advisors with legal backgrounds. With Changson’s resignation, no opposition members remain.

The preliminary results of southern Sudan’s referendum on independence show that nearly 99% voted in favor of secession. Independence will take effect July 9, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and the south ends.