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South Sudan Referendum Commission accused of electoral violations

Referendum to decide Sudan's fate marred by legal suits against the South Sudan Referendum Commission and accusations from both sides

ahram online, Thursday 16 Dec 2010
Registration
An official from the South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) records the details of a voter registering to vote at the John Garang de Mabior mausoleum in Juba, 6 December 2010. (Reuters)
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The South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) has been accused by a group of lawyers of violating the voter registration process as stipulated in the country’s Constitution in the lead up to the January referendum.

The SSRC is accused, in a petition filed with the Constitutional Court, of revising time schedules for all the stages of the plebiscite, which critics consider a violation of Sudan’s Constitution and the rules of the referendum.

"The Constitutional Court provisionally accepted a petition against the referendum commission," the Sudanese Media Centre said, as reported by Reuters. "Now it will look into the demands of the group of lawyers and ask the commission to react before making a final ruling." A ruling on the matter is expected within three days.

“We filed a constitutional complaint stating some legal violations within the registration process,” stated one of the plaintiffs, Ismail Hussein Haj. “A constitutional right was breached and we are asking for the legal tenets to be restored.”

General Tarek Osman, a member of the SSRC, told Ahram Online that they have not yet heard from the Court, but explained that “since the beginning, SSRC has been challenged by a tight time frame to hold the referendum; we could either refuse the challenge and let the country sink into a political and security crisis, or accept it and do what we can.”

He added that under such conditions, the commission’s work “may not be 100 per cent precise, but would not undertake any critical mistakes which render it illegal.”

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers acting on behalf of a Sudanese civic group filed a suit seeking to halt the referendum. They accuse the commission of violations in the process which could derail the plebiscite. The Society Organisation Network, which is close to the ruling party in the North, asked its members to file a suit accusing the commission of appointing members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in key posts, and that southerners living in the North were prevented from registering for the plebiscite.

The National Congress Party (NCP), headed by President Omar Al-Bashir, went on to claim that the SPLM used threats and incentives to bar southerners living in the North from registering for the referendum.

Sources close to the SPLM, the governing party in the South, are concerned that the NCP will falsify the results of southerners voting in the North, and that fewer registered voters in the North will prevent the NCP from adding hundreds of thousands of northerners among southern voters. “We filed with the Constitutional Court and are calling for stopping the referendum,” stated Qorshi Al-Tome, the lawyer who filed the complaint. “We want to make sure that it will be free and transparent.”

 Al-Tome added that 250 southerners living in the North have complainted of being intimidated, arrested, prevented from registering and that they have had relatives in the South kidnapped.

Southern leaders say this is all a ploy by the NCP to undermine the referendum which many observers believe will see the oil-rich South separate from the North. Yasser Arman, a leading member of the SPLM, said that the complaints “aim to sabotage the plebiscite” and that “it is no secret that the NCP was preparing for this gambit, which doesn’t resolve anything.”

Asked if he feels the referendum will be free and transparent, Osman responded: “We have not refused any request to monitor the elections, which in itself is a guarantee that it will be scrupulous.” He added that “there are conditions which both governments in the North and South must implement, such as the right to meet and campaign, and others required by law.”

The referendum is scheduled for January 9, 2011.

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