In-depth: Sudan's Referendum
SUDAN: Key challenges ahead of voting
Southern Sudanese demonstrate in support of full independence for the south (file photo)
JUBA, 1 October 2010 (IRIN) - Three months before Sudan's landmark referenda on the status of the South and Abyei, concern is rising as to whether credible polls can be pulled off in such a short time. Below is an outline of some pending key challenges:
Final registration lists were supposed to be published at least three months before the vote, but that deadline has been cut to a month, which leaves little time to run the entire process. While printing of voter registration materials has begun in South Africa, actual registration is expected to begin by mid-November.
The logistical challenges are huge. So far, the UN Mission in Sudan has promised support - including transport of materials by helicopter to remote areas. About 3,600 registration centres are planned, including for Southerners living in the North.
Southern Sudan Referendum Commission
Commission chairman Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil says deadlines will be met. Delays over naming the secretary general and members of the state referendum committees have been resolved. But cash has not yet been released for the commission's US$370 million budget. Half of it is expected from international donors, the other half will be split between Sudan’s finance ministry and the South’s government.
In Abyei, the referendum commission has yet to be appointed. Meanwhile, tension is rising between the pastoralist Misseriya, who enjoy grazing rights within Abyei, and often sided with the government during the most recent (1983-2005) phase of Sudan's civil war, and the Ngok Dinka, who mainly supported the Southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army.
The exact phrasing has yet to be decided. Accompanying symbols will likely be used to denote the choices. While some referendum awareness has been raised through community, church and youth groups, detailed civic education on the process has been hampered by a lack of clarity on the questions.
Fears of fraud
It is still not clear how voting eligibility for Southerners will be decided, especially those in the North or outside the country. A contested 2008 census estimated 500,000 Southerners in the North, but the Southern government and aid agencies put the number at more than 1.5 million. There have recently been unconfirmed reports that authorities in the North are talking about a much higher figure – between 2.5 and five million – and that vast numbers of “ghost” registrations are being planned so as to make an agreed minimum turnout of 60 percent impossible to attain, thereby invalidating the result.
The final decision requires a simple majority – 50 percent plus one vote cast. A rerun would require another 60 days to organize.
Deployment of observers
The US-based Carter Center has deployed 16 international observers to monitor the process, but that effort will be spread thinly over Africa’s largest nation. More international observers are expected, including from the European Union and African Union, and domestic observers are preparing to monitor the processes too. But time for this is running short.
Northern leaders claim pro-unity campaigners in the South are being harassed, accusations denied by the South. In retaliation, the South points out that pro-independence campaigners have little freedom in Khartoum. Tempers are fraying over claims that both sides are bolstering troop numbers along the still undefined border. This is denied by both sides, but observers believe tensions will increase as voting nears.
Meetings continue to hammer out key issues
such as future wealth sharing, border demarcation and citizenship. Although separate from the referenda, success in these dealings will be key for the future of Sudan. There are four working groups focusing on: citizenship; security; financial, economic and natural resources; and international treaties and agreements.
The country’s vast oil reserves could help prevent the fragile peace from derailing entirely. Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer but more than 80 percent of known oil reserves are thought to lie in the South. With all pipelines running north, a peaceful agreement benefits both sides. Analysts also suggest Sudan’s $35 billon debt could be a key bargaining chip for the South, if it took on a share and then sought to have it written off.
The South continues to face humanitarian challenges. Violence between rival communities has decreased, but flashpoints remain. At least 890 people have died and more than 188,000 been displaced since January, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some 4.3 million people affected by drought or floods will need aid in 2010 – about half the population.
Concern is also growing
over citizens from one side living in the other, should the South choose secession. Advocacy groups warn of potential backlashes from disappointed supporters of either side.
Southern leaders are adamant the referenda will go ahead on time, fearing any delay could lead to cancellation. Politicians also warn of anger on the streets even if a delay is agreed for legitimate reasons.
While most CPA milestones were late, diplomats fear the South would rather declare independence following a vote in its parliament than accept delay.