Poor start to Southern voter registration

Sudan has started registering voters for presidential, legislative and regional elections, but officials in the south and international observers say the process has begun on a flawed note.

"This process could easily be referred to as ‘dead on arrival’," Anne Itto, secretary-general for the south of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), said on 3 November.

The National Election Commission (NEC) deputy head Abdalla Ahmed, however, told the Sudan Tribune on 2 November that the NEC had mobilized concerned authorities to ensure the success of the exercise.

The month-long process began on 1 November. It is a key step towards the April 2010 polls that are seen as a landmark of the 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of civil war between north and south.

An estimated two million people died in that war, which ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

"In the context of Southern Sudan, where you don’t have [telephone] networks, where you don’t have roads, where you don’t have public transport, it is very unrealistic to expect registration to be completed by 30 November," Itto told reporters in the Southern capital, Juba.

Should the NEC fail to take immediate and drastic action, warned the SPLM, fewer than 10 percent of eligible voters in the south would be able to register and vote.

"If things go the way they are going now, I believe less than 10 percent of the total population will be registered," Itto said.

The NEC has set up some 15,000 registration centres to cater for an estimated 20 million Sudanese voters.


Observers, however, said the centres had been slow to open even in state capitals, and reports indicated that access for rural populations was poor.

Awareness that registration had begun or even knowledge of the need to register was low, while state election committees had complained of delays in operational funding.

Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Lining up to register for the April 2010 elections

Those concerns were echoed by the US-based Carter Center, whose international observers are monitoring the electoral process, which said more must be done countrywide to ensure registration.

On 2 November, the centre "expressed concerns about the obstacles facing election observers, including delays in finalizing their accreditation procedures and delays in election preparations, as well as continued reports of harassment of political party and civil society activity".

Citing Darfur, it warned of the difficulty of running election activities in the troubled region: "The continuing state of emergency means that a free and open electoral process remains difficult to contemplate."

Insecurity worries

Separately, the Washington-based Enough Project warned that poor preparations would impact on future key events, including the referendum on the south’s potential full independence slated for January 2011.

"The deck is stacked against a free and fair election in five months," wrote Sudan-based researcher Maggie Fick in a 5 November report. "There are worrying signs that it could be a trigger for further insecurity."

The process, she added, could, however, provide key lessons for the actual elections. The voter registration process “could also serve as a trial run in which some of the issues that could negatively impact [on] the polling period could be resolved", she added. "Alternately, the registration process could expose a reality that... has been felt on the ground for some time: these elections could destabilize already insecure areas as the all-important 2011 referendum draws nearer."

Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Sudanese children in the southern capital Juba take part in efforts to promote ongoing voter registration for April 2010 elections

Awareness problems

In capitals like Juba, awareness is poor, despite efforts by the authorities to advertise the process through street marches, poster campaigns and radio broadcasts.

"I registered on the first day, but I know many people who are not aware," Opio Moses Korduk, a local resident, told IRIN.

Others however, said that as southerners, their concern was the 2011 referendum and not the election.

"The north cheated us when they ran the census results," said James Deng, a student at Juba University, referring to the contested national census results released earlier this year.

"So why should we think the election will be any different? I am waiting for the referendum because independence is the only future for the south," he added.

Rising tensions

Meanwhile, talks continued between north and south following meetings with the US Special Envoy Scott Gration to tackle sticking points of the CPA.

"It is a difficult and lengthy process, but failure is not an option," Gration warned in Khartoum on 2 November.

Tensions have risen between north and south, especially following comments by Southern President Salva Kiir that voting for unity in 2011 would make southerners "second-class" citizens in Sudan.

The two sides are still divided by ideological, religious and ethnic differences over which the civil war was fought.

"It is why it is critical that we ensure that the process is fair and credible and that the will of the people, as expressed through the national elections and the referendum, is respected peacefully," added Gration.