Sudan’s referendum gets underway

Asmaa El-Husseini and Azab El-Taher in Juba, Sunday 9 Jan 2011

A weeklong referendum on the future of South Sudan is to start today, though the outcome appears already assured

South Sudan
South Sudan's President Salve Kiir casts his ballot 9 January 2011. (AP)
The south Sudanese go to the polls today to decide on whether they should stay within a united Sudan or have their own an independent state. Judging by the mood in Juba, secession is the likely outcome.

A five-hour rally by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) two nights ago was only about independence. Addressing the gathering, SPLM Secretary General Bagan Amom urged the south Sudanese to show up early at polling stations to avoid overcrowding.

In the hours just preceding the referendum, many called for secession from the north and the creation of an independent state based on freedom, equality, democracy, and political pluralism.

In Juba, as well as in other parts of the south, rallies were held and speakers announced that the day of the referendum would be the day southerners would shake off years of slavery and neglect.

Addressing a crowd of nearly 10,000 two nights ago, Bagan said that the citizens of the south have only one real option: to vote for secession. Commenting on the drawing of a hand used in the referendum to symbolise secession, Began said that the south is determined to wave goodbye to Khartoum. Southerners would end years of persecution, slavery, colonialism, marginalisation and wars, he added

Bagan told his compatriots that they would be honouring the memory of the victims of war by rejecting unity. The southerners, he said, wouldn’t be only voting for their freedom but ensuring that future generations would be free also. He urged the world to recognise and accept the choice of the southerners.

Referring to a recent speech President Omar Al-Bashir in Juba, in which he promised to respect the wishes of southerners, Bagan said Al-Bashir’s remarks were a good sign. The SPLM secretary general said that the new state would seek good relations with north Sudan, and aim to promote security and stability in the region.

Southerners, Bagan added, would have no interest in fighting more wars. They’d have their hands full with the tasks of reconstruction and development. The south needs to reverse the neglect it suffered since Sudan became independent in 1955, he said. The south is full of goodwill towards the north and intends to facilitate travel and consolidate common interests with the north, he stated.

The SPLM secretary general said that the south intends to respect public opinion in the governorates of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. He called for an end to the fighting in Darfur, noting the need for a negotiated settlement acceptable to all concerned.

The south expects Khartoum to promote peace and stability in the north through democracy, Bagan remarked, adding that stability in the north was good for the south. He pointed out that the Juba government would do all it can to make things better for the north.

Asked about the future of the SPLM, Bagan said that the movement will have two separate parties, one in the north and the other in the south. The SPLM's aim is to promote national reconstruction, democracy, equality, stability and peace, he added.

George Makuer, deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), said that everything was in place for the referendum, noting that the ballots have been sent to various polling centres inside and outside Sudan and that the referendum would start at the appointed time.

According to Makuer, there are more than 2,600 polling centres in the south and more than 165 centres in the north, as well as dozens of centres in foreign countries. Asked about the difficulties of registering voters, Makuer said that all problems having to do with registration have been resolved and that ad hoc committees operating in the polling centres had taken action on various complaints submitted in this regard.

Makuer told Ahram Online that only unresolved disputes had been referred to the Constitutional Court and that most of the complaints had been addressed. The final registry of voters had been completed days ahead of the referendum.

According to Makuer, the outcome of the referendum would be announced first in the polling centres, then in the governorates, then in South Sudan. The results of the poll in north Sudan and abroad would be the last to be announced. The final outcome of the referendum would be made public in the first week of February.

According to Makuer, 3.9 million voters from the south will take part in the referendum, plus 116,000 voters in the north and 60,000 or more abroad. International observers, Makuer added, were in place and have the full cooperation of the SSRC.

Makuer expressed confidence that the referendum would proceed smoothly, noting that the central government in Khartoum and the south government in Juba were acting in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005.

Following the referendum, Makuer said the SSRC would either disband or become part of a new government service.

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