Facts on South Sudan’s Referendum

Date for Referendum: Jan. 9, 2011

Why a Referendum

Sudan’s north-south civil war was Africa’s longest running civil conflict, flaring first in 1955. A 2005 peace deal (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) ended the latest phase and promised southerners self-determination through a referendum on independence from the north.

Since then the northern ruling National Congress Party and the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have bickered over implementing almost every detail of the 2005 accord and a wall of mistrust has formed. Few now believe the majority of southerners will vote for unity, however most diplomats involved in the south Sudan referendum have confidence that many will vote for separation.

Who can vote?

– Anyone who has a parent or ancestor from a southern tribe indigenous to the south.
– Also anyone who has been permanently resident, or whose parents or grandparents have been in the south since the Jan. 1, 1956 independence can vote.
– Southerners whose families left the south before independence must return south to register and vote. – Southerners in the north of Sudan and in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Australia, Britain, the USA, Canada and Egypt can also vote

NB: However the vague guidelines and decades of inter-marriage and movement of tribes means it may be difficult to verify who is a southerner or not.

Those planning the plebiscite estimate there are around 5.5 million southerners eligible to vote inside and outside Sudan although not all will register.

How will it work?

Vote will be by secret ballot and will have its own 17-day registration process. The referendum law states that of those who registered, 60 % need to turn out for the vote to be valid. More than 50 percent need to vote for either result for it to be binding.

The referendum commission has approved a budget of $372 million, but with a reduced timetable it will likely cost less.

Some 10,800 staff will work in almost 3,000 referendum centres. More than 14,000 police will secure the process in the south. Voting is due to begin on Jan. 9 and last one week.

Violence

The disputed oil-producing Abyei region is supposed to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on whether to join the south or the north but deep north-south divisions over who will vote and who will plan it mean this vote will either be much delayed or may not happen at all.

Most analysts believe Abyei, the site of north-south clashes since 2005, could remain Sudan’s “Kashmir” and local tensions there could spark a more general war if left to fester.

Other areas could include oil fields close to the still disputed border like Heglig and Unity. Border states Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile could also be flashpoints of violence and both north and south armies have traded accusations of troop build ups along the unmarked border.

Importance of Vote

Many African nations favour Sudan’s unity because they fear the split could fuel secessionist tensions in their own countries

Sudan is also the axis of the continent’s Arab north-African and black sub-Saharan divide. Many will see a split as a wider failure to overcome those differences. Some worry secession could lead to demands for autonomy in Sudan’s other regions including Darfur or the east who have also rebelled against Khartoum and the country could disintegrate.

Others fear that if southerners are not given the chance to vote on whether to rule themselves, the north-south civil war, which destabilized much of east Africa, could reignite.

Source: Reuters

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