JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s parliament voted on Tuesday to extend President Salva Kiir’s term in office by three years, after elections due to be held in June were called off and negotiations to end more than a year of internal conflict broke up without agreement.
Speaker Manasseh Magok Rundial said parliament overwhelmingly approved Kiir’s extension, as well as similar three-year prolongation of parliament’s own term.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million have fled their homes since fighting between supporters of Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar erupted in the world’s newest nation in December 2013.
Talks between the two groups broke up nearly three weeks ago with no deal and no future date set for their resumption, prompting the mediator to say leaders on both sides were failing in their duty to find peace.
The 270 members of parliament present voted on Tuesday to amend the country’s transitional 2011 constitution to extend the presidential and parliamentary term until July 9, 2018, with 264 members in favor and a handful opposing it.
In a roadmap to peace agreed in February, Kiir and Machar had agreed the outlines of a power-sharing deal, and they had hoped to reach a final accord by the end of March.
But the talks appear stalled, and fighting continues.
The army said it had repulsed an attack by Machar’s rebel forces in southern Unity State on Tuesday. “Rebel forces clashed with SPLA (army) forces in Nhialdiu and Bentiu but SPLA defeated them. At the moment we are yet to establish the exact number of casualties,” army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said.
In February, government spokesman Michael Makuei said that the proposal to extend Kiir and parliament’s terms was aimed at avoiding any power vacuum in the event that the government fails to reach a permanent deal with rebels.
The lawmakers however rejected extension of the life-term of state governors, saying the Transitional Constitution did not refer to them.
“Our constitution only talks of parliament and presidency, so it is up to the resident either let them continue or not in the coming transitional period,” said Onyoti Adigo, parliamentary minority leader.
South Sudan’s parliament has a total of 302 members, with six members belonging to opposition Sudan People Liberation Movement-Democratic Change Party and the rest belonging to the ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Last year, 21 lawmakers defected from SPLM to the join Machar’s rebel movement, prompting parliament to annul their membership.
Editing by George Obulutsa and Dominic Evans