NAIROBI - South Sudan opposition groups have condemned this week's move by the parliament to extend President Salva Kiir's mandate for another three years, warning such a move threatens the peace process aimed at ending the country's five-year civil war.
The mandate of the current South Sudanese government was due to end next month. But on Thursday, parliament voted to change the constitution and allow President Kiir to stay in office until July 2021.
The lawmakers also voted to extend their own terms and those of the country's 32 state governors.
The extensions come at a time when regional leaders are trying to bring the government and rebel groups to the table and end South Sudan's civil war. Some fear the extension will complicate the peace process and bring more division.
Opposition lawmaker Deng Bior, who was present for Thursday's vote, said the constitutional amendment "should wait until there is peace talk, until the peace talk is signed."
So we wanted it to be adjourned for some time so that we can see whether the peace talk can go through or not," he added. "But then we were defeated on the basis that there will constitutional vacuum.”
The SPLM-In-Opposition released a statement saying it regrets "the underhanded manner" by which the national assembly extended the term of the current transitional government.
“This illegitimate extension of the regime's tenure ... is not just bad politics, but will create mistrust between the warring parties and other stakeholders,” it said.
The South Sudan Opposition Alliance, which consists of nine parties, has rejected the extension of the government, saying it is only concerned about prolonging its stay in power rather than ending the conflict and suffering of the south Sudanese people.
Bior suggested the government is looking for a fallback position in case peace talks fail.
“There was no option for the government but to extend the period," he said. "So in this case, there will be no problem. If the peace is signed, then it will be ... corroborated in the agreement. And if the peace is not signed, then the government will continue with the constitutional mandate from the parliament."
Last weekend, warring parties failed to agree on a power-sharing deal in Entebbe, Uganda. The agreement would have paved the way for the dissolution of the parliament and the formation of a new national unity government.