Draft charter `dictatorial`: South Sudan opposition

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 12:23

Juba: South Sudan`s opposition on Tuesday slammed a proposed interim Constitution as "dictatorial”, concentrating power in the hands of the ruling party and pushing back post-independence elections.

"This is an exclusive Constitution for the SPLM," Peter Adwok Otto, the spokesman for the south`s main opposition party, SPLM-Democratic Change, said referring to the ruling Sudan People`s Liberation Movement.

"We think it is dictatorial and we reject it," he said.

"They have made a transitional period of four years. We were pushing for 18 to 20 months maximum. It is very clear that the SPLM are afraid of elections," he added.

The draft transitional Constitution deletes a two-term limit from the existing charter, drafted in 2005 after an accord to end the 22-year war with the north.

Instead of holding elections after independence as originally planned, the draft, which was handed to southern president Salva Kiir at ceremony last week, also proposes the "tenure of the office of the president of the republic of south Sudan shall be four years, commencing from July 09, 2011."

If passed by Parliament -- in which Kiir`s SPLM holds an overwhelming majority -- it will be enacted following the south`s formal independence on July 09.

The SPLM had said after an all-party political conference in October that, if south Sudan chose to split from the north in January`s referendum, which it overwhelmingly did, a broad-based transitional government would be formed, and new elections held following independence.

The draft was handed to Kiir by John Luk Jok, the minister for legal affairs and constitutional development, who headed the constitutional review committee.

Speaking at the ceremony on April 19, Jok said the draft constitutional document was meant "to kick off the birth of our new nation on the 9 July”.

But the drafting process was marred by acrimony, with six members of the review committee -- including opposition figures -- walking out, complaining of exclusion.

SPLM leaders have insisted the drafting of the interim charter was only to remove technicalities applicable to a united Sudan, with any significant changes to wait for the permanent constitutional review process, which Jok said would be "widely inclusive and participatory”.

But the SPLM-DC accused the Juba government on Tuesday of "lying”.

"When our people went to participate in the interim review of the Constitution they were always frustrated," Adwok said.

Kiir, speaking at the ceremony last week, acknowledged the difficulties but called for unity within the south.

"Those who resigned from the committee, should now see there was nothing intended against any other political party," he said.

Kiir, who came to power in 2005 after the death of former rebel leader John Garang in a helicopter crash, was elected in April last year on a five-year mandate, which he would not significantly exceed under the draft constitution.

But the opposition said they feared it could create a legal loophole at the end of that term.

"This is not clear, and we want to create a new country that is democratic for all," said Bol Gatkouth, a former lawmaker in the south`s parliament, who is now a rebel spokesman for a militia fighting in Unity state.

"It is for things like this that we are fighting the government."

The south is reeling from a string of bloody clashes between the army and some seven separate militia groups, with almost 1,000 people killed since January.

The draft Constitution also lays claim to disputed Abyei region, the site of repeated clashes since a referendum planned for January on whether the oil-producing area should join the north or the south was shelved.

Discussions are still ongoing with the north`s ruling National Congress Party, which angrily rejected the clause declaring Abyei belonged to the south as "meaningless”.

"This draft, and especially what it says about the issue of Abyei, has no meaning and will not be accepted the Sudanese government," NCP official Rabie Abdel Ati said.

Bureau Report



First Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 12:23

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