by Bianca Taberna

It is a common notion that an entity is greater as a whole than a sum of its parts. This holds especially true for a government and its linkage of institutions. These institutions are put in place to ensure that government operations are organized on various state levels and that implemented policies remain effective. When such structures exist alongside a ruling political party, there is a greater sense of state responsibility. There are more channels through which citizens can have their voices heard. Political structures also have separate responsibilities to ensure a higher degree of productivity while still allowing for cohesion. Without these political institutions, it is difficult to perceive a government’s actions as legitimate.

This is a predicament that the citizens of South Sudan are facing upon the recent dissolution of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party’s institutions. On November 15, Salva Kiir Mayardit announced that he dissolved all of the ruling party’s political structures, including its highest executive branches: the Political Bureau (PB) and the National Liberation Council (NLC).

These structures were initially implemented to strengthen the operation of the political party. Kiir’s decision to get rid of them surprised many, considering the impending national election scheduled for 2015. Kiir explained that his decision resulted from the SPLM’s national convention, originally scheduled for last May, being delayed. At the convention, elections for leadership positions within the party were supposed to be held to continue party operations. Kiir has stated that he plans on reappointing a new secretariat. In addition, he will establish a new committee, whose purpose will be to form congresses for each of South Sudan’s states. The basis of Kiir’s decision is definitely questionable. His justification for dissolving such essential parts of the political party is far too simplistic, and prompts a consideration of the underlying reasons for his actions. It should also be acknowledged that the dissolution of the SPLM structures was not a collective decision by the entire party. A number of senior members of the Political Bureau were not even included in the announcement of the party dissolution. These members included SPLM’s first deputy chairman and former vice-president, Riek Machar Teny, who has been very vocal of his contention with Kiir. The rift between the two manifested earlier this year when Kiir dismissed Machar as vice-president. Machar has even announced plans of his own to run for SPLM chairmanship in the upcoming election. He provided a statement to the Sudan Tribune, in which he maintained that there is no provision in the party’s current constitution that gives Kiir the power to dissolve the structures.  According to Machar, Kiir’s decision is unconstitutional and goes beyond the scope of his power. He adds that Kiir’s action has created a “paralysis in the party.”

In defence of the dissolution, the SPLM secretary for external affairs, Suzan Jambo, attests that Kiir has in fact acted in compliance with the party’s constitution, referring specifically to chapter X (25) sections (d), (e), (f) and (g). Machar contests this, standing firmly by his opinion and maintaining that the sections cited simply dictate the role of a chairperson but does not explicate the authority to dissolve party structures.

In late November, Machar announced that he plans to hold a press conference that will inform the nation of the SPLM’s future. He has also provided a statement to the Sudan Tribune that advances quite substantial claims. Machar informed the online news source that the press conference will reveal that resolutions have been passed against Kiir’s actions. Furthermore, it is reported that the leadership consultative meeting has in fact denounced Kiir’s decision as a violation of the party’s constitution. Details on other motions passed during the meeting regarding Kiir’s actions have been scheduled for discussion during the press conference. As of now, Machar has yet to confirm a date or location for the event.

However, amidst all this internal party discord and uncertainty about the future of SPLM’s institutions, a meeting date for members of the dissolved NLC has been confirmed for December 9th 2013. The meeting was announced via South Sudan TV, by second deputy chairperson for the party, James Wani Igga. The confirmation of this meeting seems promising. The present back and forth between party members in the media only intensifies the complexity of the situation and increases the ambiguity of SPLM’s future plans in the eyes of the public. This NLC meeting will provide the opportunity for senior members to discuss the dissolution – whether it was constitutional or not – and provide a degree of reassurance to citizens that the SPLM still somewhat cohesive. To effectively gage the ramifications of the dissolved structures, a comprehensive perspective must be applied. The circumstances in which these decisions were implemented are evidently controversial. It’s apparent that the possible contingencies of Kiir’s actions, and his justifications for them, are worrisome. Though Kiir plans to form a new secretariat, he has yet to address establishing new structures to supersede the dissolved institutions. The PB and the NLC were highly critical to the overall structure of the party. It should also be noted that the dissolution was implemented a month after Canada decommissioned the Sudan Task Force. Lacking the physical presence in the region definitely hinders Canada’ ability to aid South Sudan in what may escalate into a party division.

Despite the personal bias that may be imbedded within Marchar’s claims against Kiir, his assessment of what the dissolution has done to the SPLM is accurate – it has essentially paralyzed the ruling political party. Without these structures, the checks and balances that legitimize and adequately diffuse power within a political system are fundamentally gone.

Addendum

Members of South Sudan’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) finally met on December 14th, 2013 aiming to discuss the recent changes to the political party’s fundamental structure.

Although the meeting’s first day was initially promising, a number of the Political Bureau’s senior members, including SPLM chairman Riek Machar, refused to return on the 15th, alleging that the meeting’s nature was highly undemocratic.

Military violence started Sunday night on December 15th at a former Joint Integrated Unit Camp, in the country’s capital of Juba. Those who initiated the shooting are members of the Presidential Guard associated with Machar.

On Monday, President Salva Kiir held a press conference in which he addressed the conflict, stating that “a group of soldiers allied to the former vice-president Dr Riek Machar and his group” were responsible for the attack.

In the same press conference Kiir declared a 6 pm to 6 am curfew in Juba.

In his first interview with the Sudan Tribune since the violent breakout, Machar has denied any involvement with an attempt to seize government control. He stated:

There was no coup. What took place in Juba was a misunderstanding between presidential guards within their division. It was not a coup attempt. I have no connection with or knowledge of any coup attempt.

As of December 17th, ten former government and SPLM officials have been arrested including former Finance Minister Kosti Manibe, former Justice Minister John Luk Jok, and former Interior Minister Gier Chuang Aluong. Their individual connection to the outbreak of violence in Juba has yet to be reported. A warrant of arrest has also been put out for Machar.