Juba: South Sudan`s Parliament voted Tuesday to extend President Salva Kiir`s mandate by three years, an official said, formally ditching any plans for elections this year in the civil war-torn country.
The move has been seen as going against peace efforts by regional mediators, who have been pushing President Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to share power in a transitional government, although officials insist Kiir is seeking to avoid a power vacuum following the collapse of peace talks.
"The tenure of the office of the President is extended by 36 months," said Parliament official Thomas Wani Kundu, adding that the government`s proposal to extend its mandate and award itself continued legitimacy "was passed overwhelmingly".
Elections in the bitterly divided nation had been due to be held before July 9 -- the end of the Parliament and President`s mandate under a provisional constitution.
But international donors and civil society groups have opposed any polls, arguing that any vote held in the midst of civil war would be a sham. Instead they pushed in vain for the two sides to strike a peace deal and put an end to a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Talks between Kiir and Machar in neighbouring Ethiopia collapsed earlier this month after the two sides failed to agree on a proposal that would see the rebel leader restored to the position of vice president. Both sides have since signalled their intention to fight on.Kundu, however, said the extension of Kiir`s mandate was designed to give the government time to reach a peace deal.
"All these amendments were initiated by the President in order to give peace a chance. These (extra) three years are in order to give us a chance to get prepared... so we can conduct free and fair elections," he insisted.
He said Kiir would sign off Wednesday on the parliament`s vote.
Fighting broke out in December 2013 when Kiir -- from the Dinka tribe -- accused Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of attempting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country in which both the government and the rebels have been accused of widespread atrocities.
Over half the country`s 12 million people need aid, according to the UN, which is also sheltering some 100,000 civilians trapped inside camps ringed with barbed wire, too terrified to venture out for fear of being killed because of their ethnicity.
There was no immediate reaction from Machar, although the rebels issued a statement earlier Tuesday which branded Kiir`s government as "too deformed to be reformed" and calling on the country to "rise up" and overthrow the government.
Kiir and members of Parliament were elected in April 2010, one year before the country split from former civil war enemies in north Sudan. Elections have never been held in South Sudan as an independent country.
Following the failure of peace talks, the UN Security Council has threatened both sides with sanctions, although none have yet been imposed.