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Southern Sudan Referendum Head Threatens to Resign

South Sudan’s leaders huddled in strategic discussions in Juba for the fourth straight day today, as an internal battle within the southern Sudan referendum commission continues to plague the vote preparations

The emergency meeting of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s political bureau in southern Sudan’s capital, Juba, dragged on throughout the weekend with no word from the SPLM leaders as to what might is being decided inside.

One of the key issues facing the southern Sudanese former rebels is that with less than five months to go before the region is to vote on independence, the referendum preparations have barely begun.

The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission is tasked with organizing the vote, but was formed late and has been troubled with divisions since its inception.

In an interview with Reuters yesterday, the head of the commission, Mohammed Khalil Ibrahim, threatened to resign after accusing its five southern members of voting in a bloc and of viewing the commission’s issues through a regional rather than national lens.

The SPLM is demanding that the powerful secretary-general position be given to a southerner since Ibrahim, a northerner, sits as chairman.

Already, preparations for the referendum are far behind schedule. According to the referendum law passed late last year, an initial voters roll was supposed to be published by the end of this month, yet registration has yet to begin.

In Juba’s streets, concern over an uncertain immediate future is evident.

“We have mistrust there, because we see the National Congress Party and SPLM are not on good terms,” said Garang Atem, a 32-year-old government employee. “But we need the referendum to be on the 9th of January, 2011. We don’t need any more delays. That is our feeling as all Sudanese.”

Others, like James Dor Mathiang, a student a Juba University originally from Unity state, fear the Khartoum-based NCP could ignore the choice of the people for secession, which could lead to war.

“The war, it can come. And this war may come during the time of the voting. When I vote now for separation, and then the leader of this self-determination [commission] is an Arab person, maybe he can even avoid my vote, to turn my vote to unity,” he said.

The southern referendum was a core component in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the SPLM and NCP, ending the two decade conflict which killed 2 million people, mostly southerners.