A Southern Sudanese man stores referendum polling kits inside a warehouse in Juba 23 December 2010. (Reuters)
The chairman of the South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), Chan Reec Madut, has declared that everything is in place for the plebiscite on January 9 that will see Southern Sudanese voters choose continued unity with the North or self-determination and the formation of a new state. Another SSRC member, Samuel Masharik, saidthat the problem of limited funds remains.
Madut told a news conference on January 3 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, that the SSRC registered close to four million voters in South Sudan in all ten states and eight countries of Diaspora.
Voters, 52 per cent of whom are women, will cast their ballots at 2,638 polling stations under the supervision of more than 10,000 staff trained by the SSRC at a cost of nearly 52 million Sudanese Pounds ($20.8 million).
Mary Isaac, SSRC’s representative in Cairo, told Ahram Online that Egypt is one of the eight Diaspora countries where voting will also take place. Three ballot stations have been set up for the 2,600 southerners in Egypt who are registered to vote.
The majority of southerners (a little more than three million) will vote in South Sudan itself with only tens of thousands registered in Khartoum. Voting will also take place in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda which is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees. There will also be balloting in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.
Masharik told Ahram Online that despite all the progress, there are still great challenges to be overcome, most prominently funding. "The referendum will cost $376 million," he revealed. "We hope that President Bashir will bring us good news about funds when he visits Juba."
Another member of the SSRC, Tarek Osman, said that "since the beginning we were pressed for time and funds, but we accepted the mission to save Sudan from a perilous security and political dilemma."
The referendum will begin on January 9 and continue until January 14, unless the SSRC decides "there is a need to extend the voting period," according to the head of the SSRC. Madut said that as soon as voting ends, the ballots will be counted and the results announced on February 15.
The SSRC noted that voting and counting will require some time because of poor infrastructure in South Sudan, where paved roads are uncommon. According to UN figures, one quarter of the people in the South live in areas more than 30 miles away from paved roads, while the majority of the others live between 20-30 miles away from these roads.
The SSRC will announce the final voter lists on January 6, and campaigning ends on January 8. Some 650 Arab and foreigner observers have started arriving in the South. These include observers sent by the UN, African Union, Arab League, the Carter Centre and EU. Khartoum said that it will guard the ballot stations in the North with more than 17,000 soldiers, while the government in the South will use almost all of its forces during the voting period.
"Our main goal is to secure the citizens of the South so they can express their opinion," asserted the information minister and South Sudan government spokesman. Peacekeepers in the South will also guard balloting with token forces, in accordance with the comprehensive peace treaty.
The North and South signed a comprehensive peace treaty in Nifasha, Kenya, in 2005, which stipulates holding two referendums in 2011. Other than the issue of southern independence from the North, voters in the disputed and oil-rich region of Abyei will decide whether to remain part of the North or join South Sudan. The Abyei referendum has been postponed.
The population of South Sudan is estimated to be nine million, 22 per cent of Sudan's population, mostly comprised of Christians and adherents of indigenous African religions.