Opinion| Multiparty system crucial for competitive, free and fair elections in South Sudan

If the proposed elections turn out to be true, then eligible South Sudanese voters are only left with seven months to cast their secret ballots to decide who or which political party will occupy J1 (State House) and other institutions of power.

If the proposed elections turn out to be true, then eligible South Sudanese voters are only left with seven months to cast their secret ballots to decide who or which political party will occupy J1 (State House) and other institutions of power.

Yet, it is still unclear whether or not the current political leadership of the Republic of South Sudan will adhere to the ideals of the multiparty system as enshrined in the country’s constitution.

The Republic of South Sudan espoused the multiparty system immediately after the proclamation of its political independence in 2011. This political system has been hailed with a firm belief that it is an essential principle for fostering Liberal Democracy in the world’s youngest nation. Article 25.1 of the South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution of 2011 as amended states, “The right to peaceful assembly is recognized and guaranteed; every person shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form or join political parties …”.

As a result, dozens of political parties have shown interest to contest in the proposed elections in December 2024.

However, the existence of some of these political parties has engendered some doubt as to whether they will be able to conduct their political activities without hindrance, for the well-functioning of the multiparty system in Africa always depends on the willingness of an incumbent political leadership of a country to adhere to some universal principles of political pluralism. For this reason, it can be plainly expressed that the ceremonial existence of many political parties does not ineludibly crown the Republic of South Sudan with the spirit of political pluralism. Even authoritarian governments in other parts of the world also embrace the multiparty system with the solemn aim of concealing their overbearing pathologies. 

To conduct competitive, free, and fair elections in December 2024, the current political leadership of South Sudan should fully uphold and faithfully adhere to the basic principles of the multiparty system. A multiparty system, as the name suggests, is “a political system that consists of various political parties that stand across the political spectrum in the normal course of the electoral process”.

It requires all registered political parties in a country to operate within a free, open, and conducive political environment. In such an environment, political parties have equal rights and equal opportunities when conducting their political activities across the country. This state of affairs, in the Liberal Democratic lexicon, is often referred to as “free and open political space for all political parties.”

Furthermore, the multiparty system postulates that political parties are equal before the country’s constitution, electoral laws, and procedures. The rights of these parties to have equal access to media coverage, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and assembly should be upheld, and their rights to have physical access to electorates as well as national resources must be guaranteed, and all must enjoy adequate protection of the state security machinery. These central tenets of the multiparty system constitute a prerequisite for the conduct of competitive, free, fair, and credible elections in the Republic of South Sudan.

Competitive, free, and fair elections remain the expected and desirable political outcomes in South Sudan. While elections are the trajectories through which a peaceful transfer of political power can be passed on, the multiparty system is the trajectory of such elections. This is because, in the multiparty system, political parties are primarily institutionalized to compete for state power peacefully, and under the prescribed electoral laws and procedures. These parties replicate people’s views, interests, and needs from their highest standards to their fullest aspirations. Without the multiparty system in the Republic of South Sudan, South Sudanese aspirations and the will to mobilize them to bring about a fundamental change will hardly be there. Therefore, the multiparty system is crucial for the conduct of competitive, free, and fair elections in any developing liberal democracy like South Sudan.

When the incumbent political leadership of the Republic of South Sudan endorses the multiparty system, it will, by standard, open a wide range of policy options to South Sudanese voters in December 2024.

For example, South Sudanese electorates will cast their secret ballots not based on the imposition of a single party’s interest, but on policy preferences that different political parties will present. In terms of the interests of each political party, the multiparty system adequately represents the interests of the majority as well as the minority in all branches and levels of government. No single political party in the multiparty system will have an absolute political authority to impose its own will and interest on others at all levels of government. As a result, the possibility of dictatorial tendencies will be reduced in the Republic of South Sudan.

Also, tough competition among various South Sudanese political parties will compel them to articulate desirable political objectives, programs as well as policies capable of convincing and hopefully serving their geographical constituencies during and after elections.  It is only the multiparty system that usually watermelons elections’ promises and subsequently helps defuse electoral tensions by rendering political legitimacy to democratically elected constitutional post holders.

With all these opportunities and hopes, the multiparty system has become a worthwhile cause for fostering competitive, free, and fair elections in the Republic of South Sudan. For instance, not only is the multiparty system closely associated with the institutional well-being of a given political community, but it is also an instrument for forging political pluralism and accommodation of diverse political creeds and interests, especially in a highly diverse and polarized society such as South Sudan. Its central object is to offer a wide variety of policies, interests, and visions of the wide groups of political forces. As such, the multiparty system has increasingly become more accountable and appetizing towards citizens’ aspirations in many modern democratic states.

As the clock is ticking for elections, governmental institutions and other relevant authorities responsible for the conduct and monitoring of elections in the Republic of South Sudan should create a free, open, and conducive political environment for all political parties as a way of fostering the multiparty system.  They should do so by enacting and implementing fair, inclusive, and favorable electoral laws, procedures, and conditions. Potential obstacles such as the imposition of unaffordable registration charges, the mingling of constitutional roles, and other deliberately mechanized political checkpoints must be discouraged.  Only when the adherence to basic principles of the free and open multiparty system is upheld, strengthened, and consolidated by the incumbent political leadership shall the Republic of South Sudan conduct competitive, credible, free, and fair elections in December 2024.

Amaju Ubur Yalamoi Ayani is a South Sudanese secondary school teacher of Citizenship and English Language at Venus Star High School. He is also a student of Political Science and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts Degree in Political Science with a specialty in International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of Social and Economic Studies, University of Juba. He can be reached via amajuayani@gmail.com.

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