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South Sudan: Carter Center Praises Progress on Legal Framework, Urges Informed Debate on Electoral Bill

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South Sudan: Carter Center Praises Progress on Legal Framework, 
Urges Informed Debate on Electoral Bill

Following a series of public hearings, South Sudan's National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is in the final review stages of a national elections bill to establish the framework for political competition in future elections in South Sudan. Taking into account that passage of an elections bill is needed to move forward with by-elections for vacant legislative seats at the state and national level, The Carter Center encourages all stakeholders to continue to contribute to a thorough debate on the draft bill.

In advance of the third reading of the legislation, the Center would like to raise several key issues to contribute to the discussion by members of the assembly, as well as for interested citizens, civil society, political parties, and other stakeholders.  The Center offers these suggestions in the spirit of supporting parliament to craft a robust and credible electoral law that helps ensure South Sudan meets international standards and best practices for democratic elections:

  • Appointment Procedures for the National Elections Commission (NEC) – An independent NEC is critical to ensure that elections are conducted in a transparent and credible atmosphere, meet international standards, and elect governments that represent the will of the people. The draft bill stipulates that the NEC will consist of nine members appointed by the president and approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. Consideration could be given to strengthening elements of the act to ensure the neutrality and impartiality of this important body. Current language on the appointment of commissioners is vague and only notes that the president consider consultation with and representation of civil society and women's groups, without mentioning how this will occur. The NLA could consider an alternative system for appointing commissioners such as maintaining some seats on the NEC as presidential appointments, while reserving a number of seats to be chosen by leaders of minority parties in the assembly. Alternatively, the president could choose commissioners from a list of candidates presented by the assembly through a list-making process that ensures inclusion of minority political party input. Considering these types of measures will help ensure the NEC meets the constitution's requirement for independence,[1] while the commission's high standards for appointment will insulate it from political critique.
  • Term Limits – Term limits, particularly for the office of the executive, are a broadly recognized best practice. Although term limits are likely to be considered during development of the permanent constitution, legislators could consider prescribing them for both the president and governors within the national elections bill. Providing this additional safeguard would demonstrate the government's commitment to democratic best practices.
  • Staggering Legislators' Terms to Ensure Continuity – As currently written, the draft elections bill suggests that both houses of the legislature would have the same term lengths, in practice resulting in every seat being up for re-election at the same time. Ideally, consideration could be given to stipulating different term lengths for each house of parliament and staggering terms of legislators to foster continuity and greater institutional knowledge between legislative sessions. Such a system will enhance the lawmaker's ability to continue their work effectively and will also ensure that not all legislators are undertaking political re-election campaigns at the same time.
  • Participation of the South Sudanese Diaspora – Stakeholders could also contemplate clarifying a provision allowing South Sudanese living abroad to participate in elections by casting ballots at embassies or through other means, in support of the human right of universal and equal suffrage. The draft law in its current form only briefly states that the NEC will prepare the electoral register and list of candidates across South Sudan and abroad. A further step could be to clarify the eligibility requirements that would extend the right of suffrage to South Sudanese abroad. While the elections law need not be overly detailed regarding the specifics of these requirements, the addition of some language on the out-of-country voting process would ensure its incorporation within the NEC's mandate.

Recent public hearings hosted by the Committee on Legislation and Justice on the draft elections bill indicate the assembly's eagerness to consult with citizens, civil society, and political parties.[2] The hearings reflect positively on the Government of South Sudan's commitment to uphold the right of access to information and freedom of expression, as required by the Transitional Constitution.[3] The Carter Center commends the committee's leadership in organizing the hearings, as well as those participants who offered clear and informed views and constructive feedback to the committee, which resulted in several positive changes to the legislation. Further, the hearings are a welcome sign of the assembly's commitment to foster a climate of transparency, inclusion, and participatory government.

Thus far, debate has been open and well-attended by government policymakers and has included views from a range of political parties and civil society representatives. This openness in light of other pressing concerns, most notably an austerity budget and negotiations with Sudan over oil pipeline fees and other issues, demonstrates South Sudan's commitment to establishing a legal framework for a democratic government that reflects the will of the people. The recent passage of the Political Parties Bill on Feb. 29 offers further evidence of this commitment.  As the national elections bill goes through the final stages of debate, The Carter Center urges all interested stakeholders to continue to take part in the process and to ensure that important issues raised in the debate are carefully considered. South Sudanese are encouraged to exercise their democratic rights as citizens to express their thoughts and concerns regarding the framework for future elections.

Given South Sudan's recent history and ongoing internal conflicts, initial efforts at creating a credible and open democratic legal system should be encouraged and strengthened. Passing laws that meet South Sudan's international and national obligations is only the first step; an equally important second step is to ensure these laws are faithfully implemented and widely understood across South Sudan. While this will present an ongoing challenge, it would be an encouraging sign if South Sudan's lawmakers can continue to show their resolve to support democratic laws and reforms, even in tough times. Looking ahead, The Carter Center recommends the government ensure the public is widely informed of the national elections bill's content once it is passed, so as to guarantee that all citizens have a genuine understanding of their election system in advance of the debates that will occur during the review of the permanent constitution.

Background on the Carter Center Mission

Following observation of the 2010 national elections and 2011 referendum, The Carter Center has been working in South Sudan since January 2011 to monitor the transition period, including the constitutional reform process, at the invitation of President Salva Kiir and the government. The mission is supported by a joint Memorandum of Understanding between The Carter Center and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on behalf of the Republic of South Sudan. The mission assesses the transitional process in South Sudan based on the country's obligations for democratic practices and civic participation contained in national legislation and regional and international agreements to which the majority of countries in East Africa have supported, including the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Center issues periodic statements on its findings, available at


The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. The Carter Center began working in Sudan in 1986 on the Sasakawa-Global 2000 agricultural project and for more than 20 years its health and peace programs have focused on improving health and preventing and resolving conflicts in Sudan. Please visit to learn more about The Carter Center.


[1] Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, Article 197 (1).

[2] This follows upon similar public consultations held by the Ministry of Justice in October 2011. Both sets of hearings were supported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

[3] Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011, Article 24(1).

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