South Sudanese about to “fulfill” quorum

Ahram Online, Wednesday 12 Jan 2011

Half way through the referendum, southerners continue to flock to polling stations in large numbers, raising expectations that the required quota could soon be reached

Sudan Referendum
A southern Sudanese woman casts her vote at a ballot box at a polling centre during the third day of the referendum in the capital Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, 11 Jan. 2011.

“We’re in the same boat, sailing ahead” was one of the pop songs aired on Ganubna FM on the third day of the referendum. In another song titled, "We're behind you, holding your hand”, performed in the Juba Arabic dialect, the lyrics allude to the symbol of secession on the ballot papers -- a hand held up as if to say “enough is enough”. The song progresses, in English this time, declaring “Lead us to the promised land.”

In Juba, the referendum has inspired a zeal that borders on missionary-like fervor.

For the referendum to be valid there must be a 60 per cent voter turnout. The high numbers thus far suggest that this quota could be met well before the end of the seven-day referendum.

Samson Wasara, president of the Political Science and Economy College at Juba University, said that “everyone is politically and emotionally wired up” anticipating that the momentum could bring the referendum to a faster conclusion than expected.

The director of the polling stations at Juba University said that of the 5,800 registered voters, 2,010 turned up in the first two days.

“We need only 1,470 voters to meet the quorum, and that should happen within a day or two at most.”

In Gambo, a village situated nearby Juba, on the eastern banks of Al-Gamal Fort, the polling chief echoed the same sentiment. In the first two days, he said, 2,250 out of a total of 5,000 registered voters cast their ballots, meaning that only 750 voters were needed to fulfill the quorum.

According to an Arab diplomat who had toured several cities in Al-Istiwa’iya Governorate, turnout in villages was less than in the cities, but fairly high.  In Kaybuta, east of Juba, nearly 700 of a total 1,600 registered voters have shown up --300 more voters are needed to meet the quorum.

There are only two options on the ballot, but due to high illiteracy rates, the process is at times sluggish.

Upon arrival at a polling station, the voter must hand in his ID card to a polling official. Next, the voter dips his or her finger in ink that won't wash off for a few days, ensuring that voters can't vote more than once. Finally, the voter places the marked ballot in a transparent box.

According to Edmond Yakani, director of the Sudanese Network for Democratic elections, the voting process can take up to 12 minutes, but is generally much faster for literate voters.

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