In March 2021, in its resolution 2567 (2021), the Security Council requested the Secretary-General, in accordance with best practices, to conduct and provide to it, no later than 15 July 2021, a needs assessment, including security, procedural and logistical requirements to create an enabling environment for elections in South Sudan. Accordingly, throughout the month of May 2021, a team led by the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, with a representative of the Eastern Africa Division of the Department, and of the United Nations Development Programme, conducted an electoral needs assessment for South Sudan. The team held remote meetings and travelled to Juba, Malakal and Addis Ababa from 6 to 26 May to meet with key interlocutors, namely the Government of South Sudan, the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, th e interim National Election Commission, civil society, political parties, the media, the diplomatic community and a wide range of other stakeholders.
The needs assessment team found that, while aspirations for peaceful and credible elections run high in South Sudan, they are tempered by ubiquitous concerns over a fragile security situation and a challenging political and socioeconomic environment.
The holding of elections could be a turning point for South Sudan. The needs assessment team found, however, that for elections to enjoy broad public trust and lead to a peaceful acceptance of the results, the political and electoral system in South Sudan should be consistent with the rule of law and human rights and provide defeated candidates with an incentive to continue to participate. To that end, efforts would need to be made to reduce the high stakes, renounce the politics of exclusion and avoid a winner-takes-all political and electoral system. This would require strengthening the system of checks and balances within the Government, introducing mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights for all, ensuring a genuine role for the opposition by holding consultations outside parliament, examining how national resources are distributed, and tackling other structural grievances. The constitutional and legal reforms envisioned in the peace agreement provide an important opportunity for meaningful participatory decision-making that will affect how elections are implemented and the results ultimately accepted.
Electoral operations in South Sudan will be extremely complex and lengthy, given the infrastructure challenges, security concerns, inability to access large parts of the country during the rainy season, illiteracy rate and difficulty for many South Sudanese to prove their age and citizenship. In particular, if national and sub-national elections are held simultaneously, with the existing electoral systems requiring eight different ballot papers, the challenges will increase exponentially for the electoral administration, political parties, candidates and voters.
Concerning the electoral timeline, the assessment team recommends that, within two years prior to the holding of elections, progress be made on (a) an agreement on the legal and security framework for elections, including the electoral system, boundary delimitation, special measures for internally displaced persons, refugees, out-of-country voting, dispute resolution mechanisms and election observation, as well as on the type and level of elections to be held; (b) an agreement on the composition and functioning of the National Election Commission and the designation of its members, both in Juba and at the sub-national level; and (c) the allocation of resources for the operating costs of the National Election Commission and a budget for elections operations.
The parties to the peace process will likely rely on the assistance of the United Nations, the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Troika (the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Norway), the European Union and others to move forward. The ongoing cooperation to support the implementation of the peace agreement will assume even greater importance in the context of elections. The electoral needs assessment team noted that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is uniquely placed to play a coordinating role amongst regional and international partners and ensure an effective alignment of good offices and technical assistance.
In the light of the existing Security Council mandate, the electoral needs assessment team recommends that the United Nations provide electoral assistance to South Sudan in an integrated manner, under the overall guidance and leadership of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, such as the United Nations Office for Project Services, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Development Programme, would gradually complement UNMISS efforts, as required.
The assessment team recommends that United Nations electoral assistance be provided in two phases, as described below: