- President Salva Kiir meets SPLM-IO Chief Negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, in Juba, December 22, 2015 (ST Photo)
A group of people, claiming to be the leadership of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) in Juba, said they have endorsed Minister of Mining, Taban Deng Gai, to act as First Vice President in the absence of Machar.
Machar fled Juba two weeks ago after his forces clashed with the forces loyal to President Salva Kiir. He said he would return to Juba once a third party force is deployed to separate the two forces and ensure his protection and the safety of his officials.
The group, including Alfred Ladu Gore, deputy chairman and Dhieu Mathok Diing, secretary general, were reportedly threatened by Gai to endorse him. This happened a day after Gai was already dismissed from the party membership by Machar on Friday, who accused him of defecting to President Salva Kiir’s faction.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, a supporter of Gai, told Miraya FM radio on Saturday that Gai would be appointed as First Vice President on Saturday by President Kiir and take oath of office on Sunday and start his work on Monday. It is not clear if the sequence of events will happen as predicted by Gatkuoth.
It was not clear why it was Gai, number four in the SPLM-IO hierarchy pushed his own nomination despite the presence of his two senior officials, Alfred Lado Gore, and Dhieu Mathok Diing.
The members who convened the meeting said Gai would step down if Machar returns to Juba. They said Gai would be appointed by President Kiir over the weekend as acting First Vice President.
However, the process has been criticized by JMEC who immediately issued a statement on Saturday, saying they only recognize Machar as the legitimate leader of the SPLM-IO.
“We recognize First Vice President Riek Machar as the legitimate leader of the SPLM-IO. A change to the leadership depends on the IO itself and we are not here to speculate as to any change of leadership. We do not see any value in speculating when the friends of South Sudan are working hard to ensure a return to the peace agreement,” JMEC said in a short statement in their reaction to the attempt to replace Machar.
Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, also said the process was “illegal” as Taban Deng was no longer a member of the SPLM-IO per the dismissal issued on Friday evening by Machar.
He said Gai and his “handful of officials” were being used by President Kiir’s group to cause problems within the SPLM-IO and to subsequently dismantle the peace agreement.
He said some of their leaders in Juba have been threatened to endorse Gai or risk security threats, adding that even the number of the officials present could not qualify for a quorum to decide for the party’s leadership future.
“First of all, that hotel meeting was illegal, organized by a dismissed member. Second, even if they were to be SPLM-IO officials, what did they call themselves? Were they political bureau members or were they national liberation council members? How many were they? Could they qualify for a quorum of the two respective institutions of the party? These are the questions. They picked people from the streets of Juba and called them a leadership body. The whole process is illegal and a forgery designed for them by someone else who wishes to destroy the peace agreement,” Dak told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
He said over 90 percent of the SPLM-IO members of the political bureau and national liberation council have either fled to United Nations camps in Juba or are in the other parts of the country and in the neighbouring countries.
Dak also said even if Gai were not to have been dismissed from the party prior to his “forged nomination”, there was no such a process provided for in the peace agreement to replace a first vice president.
He said it should have been the first vice president, who is a nominee of the SPLM-IO, to have instead nominated someone to act on his behalf if need be.
The opposition’s leader spokesperson further pointed there is no provision in the peace agreement which said in the absence of the first vice president, an official should impose himself to be nominated and get appointed and sworn in.
He said Machar remains the legitimate leader of the SPLM-IO and commander-in-chief of the SPLA-IO army as well as the first vice president, adding that any attempt to violate August 2015 the peace agreement would backfire.
He dismissed claims by Taban Deng that he would step down “if” Machar emerges, saying their hope is that Machar will be crashed in the bush and never come back to Juba.
The SPLM-IO says its leader Machar will return to Juba once the third party force is deployed to the capital. But Taban backs the President Kiir in his rejection for the deployment of a regional force in the country.