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Voter Registration Begins in Sudan

  • Matt Richmond

For the next 17 days, Southern Sudanese in Sudan and eight other countries will be signing up for the long-awaited chance to cast their ballots in the January 9th referendum on southern independence.

More than 2,600 registration centers are to be set up in Southern Sudan. The delayed registration process started at sites like one near the center of the southern capital, Juba. It is just a table set up under a tree, in a lot by the side of the road.

Referendum commission officials wearing yellow vests spent the day registering a line of young men waiting in the shade. First, they show their identity cards, then they dip their index finger in a bottle of purple ink and press their fingerprint onto their voter card. According to this referendum center's chairman, Aloro Amos, the ink is used to prevent fraud.

"Because he is dipping his index finger into the ink there, that ink lasts for the whole of this registration period, for 17 days, and when somebody comes we have to check for the ink," said Amos.

The registered voter receives a laminated card and starting January 9th, they can come back to the same place to vote.

Southerners are expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence. The previous vote in Sudan, an April general election, was widely criticized for poor planning and possible vote rigging. A repeat of what happened in the general election could lead to a cancellation of the voting results.

No group has a greater interest in ensuring a credible vote than the south's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

The SPLM referendum monitoring bureau supervisor in Juba, Acuil Malith Banggol, says the goal is to have two SPLM monitors at each of the country's referendum centers, reporting back to Juba on any problems that arise during the registration and voting.

"The daily information is already coming back," said Banggol. "I have it recorded, they are sending it to us in e-mail. In Bentiu, they are still waiting for authorization for accreditation. In Wau, the turnout is very high."

Although the monitors have yet to reach every one of the more than 2,600 voting centers in the south, the referendum process is starting to put in place the infrastructure that connects all of southern sudan to the capital. The question is whether that infrastructure will continue to develop beyond the January vote on independence.

According to the chairman of the south's referendum bureau, Chan Reec Madut, when generators were distributed to referendum centers in some of the remote parts of the country, it was the first time that many of those areas had seen electricity.

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