South Sudan will hold its elections in 2024, but observers say little has been done to ensure free and fair polls. / Photo: AFP

A faction of South Sudan's ruling party walked out of parliament on Monday, accusing President Salva Kiir of violating a fragile peace agreement after lawmakers passed a bill paving the way for long-delayed elections.

The world's youngest nation has struggled to find its footing since achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, enduring multiple crises including a five-year civil war that cost nearly 400,000 lives before a peace deal was signed in 2018.

A unity government between Kiir and his rival and deputy Riek Machar has largely failed to meet key provisions of the peace agreement, including drafting a constitution and electoral legislation ahead of polls now set for next year.

On Monday, lawmakers belonging to Machar's wing of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party protested the passage of the National Election Act, warning that it would result in an "undemocratic, unfair and not credible" vote.

UN’s concern

"The proposal that the President be given extra powers to appoint additional number of (lawmakers)... takes away the mandate and the sovereignty" of South Sudan's people, they said in a press statement.

The lawmakers accused parliament speaker Jemma Nunu Kumba of pushing a vote through without allowing them "fair chance to express their views on this critical matter."

Kiir has vowed to hold the country's first ever presidential polls by December 2024, but UN envoy Nicholas Haysom warned last month that the authorities needed to create a conducive environment to ensure "peaceful, inclusive and credible elections."

The United Nations has repeatedly criticised South Sudan's leadership for its role in stoking violence, cracking down on political freedoms and plundering public coffers.

Marred by war

The government was meant to conclude a transition period with elections in February 2023, but has so far failed to fulfil key terms of the peace deal.

One of the poorest countries on the planet despite large oil reserves, South Sudan has spent almost half of its life as a nation at war and continues to be roiled by outbreaks of politically motivated ethnic violence.