The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Nicholas Haysom, said during a press conference in the capital, Juba, that the country must move towards elections with barely eight months remaining in the transitional period agreed upon by political parties.
"I am urging south Sudanese leaders to do everything necessary to move the country out of transition and conduct free, fair, creditable and peaceful elections,”Haysom said.
In accordance with a 2018 peace agreement that created a unity government with President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, elections must take place before February 2023.
A timetable for the polls must be availed in advance for the international community to back the process, Haysom said, adding that without a date, “nobody will really commit to supporting the elections and the South Sudanese will not get into the frame of mind which is necessary” for elections.
The government has yet to reconstitute an electoral commission and implement key judicial reforms — and Kiir and Machar are known to have different opinions on the matter.
Kiir, who has served as South Sudan's president since its independence from Sudan in 2011, says general elections will take place as planned in 2023 despite delays in implementing a roadmap.
Machar, however, insists elections cannot be free and fair unless key provisions in the 2018 deal are fully implemented.
But Haysom reiterated Thursday that elections can still happen if authorities create the right circumstances.
“It’s not only technical arrangements and logistical planning that’s necessary for elections to take place. What is also required is a free and open political environment,” he said.
There were high hopes for peace and stability when South Sudan gained its long-fought independence from Sudan. But it slid into ethnic violence in December 2013.
Numerous attempts at a durable peace have failed. The civil war killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions.