By Parach Mach
JUBA, South Sudan
South Sudanese lawmakers on Thursday voted to extend President Salva Kiir's mandate by three years, in a move likely to complicate regional attempts to end almost five years of civil war.
Anthony Lino Makana, South Sudanese parliamentary speaker, told Anadolu Agency the extension was necessary to ward off a power vacuum as the government's mandate runs out this July.
"The lawmakers think this is a legal procedure and the government should have a new mandate until the time the agreement is signed," Lino Makana said.
The move is seen as going against peace efforts led by regional mediators who have been pushing Kiir's government and rebel leader Riek Machar and the armed opposition, to share power in a transitional government.
South Sudanese opposition groups condemned the move describing it as self-serving and unconstitutional.
“This is a clear indication that Kiir and his government are not interested in making peace despite the ongoing peace negotiation in Khartoum and Kampala,” Mabior Garang de Mabior, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) secretary of information and former minister of water and irrigation in the unity government before the renewed fighting in July 2016, said a statement.
Anthony Lino Makana, however, said the extension of Kiir's mandate was designed to give the government more time to reach a peace deal.
"The amendment in the constitution was initiated in order to give peace a chance. The three years are in order to give the current government a chance to get prepared, sign peace with opposition so that we go for free and fair elections," he insisted.
South Sudan civil war broke out in December 2013 when Kiir accused his deputy Machar of attempting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country in which both the government and the rebels have been accused of widespread atrocities.
Over half the country's 12 million people need aid, according to the UN including over 2 million displaced into neighboring countries.