Since mid-December 2013, thousands of people have been killed in armed conflict in South Sudan. The fighting is entrenched in a power struggle between the main political contenders ahead of elections which were scheduled for 2015. This article examines the violence in South Sudan since the North–South war ended with a focus on the consequences of the introduction of electoral politics. Our research contributes to the literature on state-building and peace-building in war-torn societies, by exploring how the extreme levels of violence are linked to three groups of factors. First, the stakes involved in being part of the government are extremely high, since it is the only way to secure political and economic influence. Second, the actors involved in political life are dominated by individuals who held positions within the rebel groups, which increases the risk of political differences turning violent. Third, the institutions important for a legitimate electoral process, and which work to prevent violence, are weak or non-existent.