Prepared by Anna Morgan, Johns Hopkins, SAIS
Event Summary: The February 2 USIP hosted event, Perspectives on Sudan’s Referendum, provided the opportunity for observers of the recent referendum to reflect on their experiences and look forward to the challenges ahead for both northern and southern Sudan. The session was moderated by Jon Temin, the Director of the USIP Sudan Programme. The speakers included Linda Bishai (USIP), Jok Madut Jok (Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow) and Timothy Luccaro
99.7% of the electorate voted in favor of secession of Southern Sudan in last week’s referendum. The process was overwhelmingly peaceful and it now looks likely that Khartoum will accept the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan. The speakers provided accounts of the passage of the referendum in the North, the South and in Darfur.
The turn out was high in the South, boosted by a large influx of returnees. There were some instances of small-scale violence and cattle raiding. 1600 cattle were stolen from one community in the South but the Government was quick to quell the resultant violence and urge restraint. The mood was one of celebration. In Juba, the unusual (for January) rains following the announcement of the result were seen as a sign of God’s acceptance of the new State.
Darfur saw much lower turnouts than in the South, approximately 50% of the populace. This was likely due to: the harvest season; a large percentage of the resident southern population having already returned to the South; problems with transport and access to the polling stations; limited campaigning; and early closure of the polling stations due to the security curfew. The process was conducted professionally. 59% voted in favor of unity. The atmosphere was one of trepidation rather than jubilation with many voters expressing concern about what secession of the South means for Darfur.
In Khartoum, the mood was acceptance but sadness, with many locals commenting that families, friends and networks would now be split.
The primary lessons from the Referendum process were as follows:
- Mobile polling centers could have further increased turn out. Some had to travel for up to 40 miles to get to the polling stations and many did not have access to transport.
- More voter education on the referendum process could have eased the process on the day. A number of voters had registered in the North and then returned to the South for voting. However, voters were only able to vote in the district that they were registered in. This resulted in approximately 4000 returnees being disenfranchised. High numbers of people also needed help in voting as the pre-referendum voter education had been limited.
- Assistance from polling centres staff was mostly benign but the observers witnessed the Chairs of the polling centre, in some cases, voting on behalf of voters or accompanying them into the polling booth, undermining the secrecy of their ballots.
- Concerns were raised about whether the large numbers of observers and the military presence surrounding the polling booths may have been perceived as intimidation and made it harder for those in the South to vote against secession.
- Staff were well trained but had problems reconciling the registration books and registration cards. In many cases they did not correlate.
The following issues were raised in presentations and discussions about Sudan’s future:
- Questions remain on how the South will be governed, including how far traditional justice and governance structures will be absorbed by the new state.
- Omar Bashir will have to act quickly to re-establish governance structures, whilst managing expectations. The future relationship between the North and the South will be shaped by actions over the next few months.
- The new boundary between the North and South will be Sudan’s longest border, with many potential flash points. Effective border control will be a key component of future relations. •
- The South’s President, Salva Kiir, has appointed a committee to develop the Southern constitution. This will need to address the balance of power between Juba and the localities and the role of opposition parties and civil society.
- The future of UNMIS is unclear. Its mandate will need to be reshaped if it is to continue.