Carter Center and other international observers have given their stamp of approval to the just completed independence referendum in Southern Sudan.
The center describes the 7 day vote as “peaceful and credible,” saying the referendum “represents the realization of the aspirations of the people of Southern Sudan to determine their political future.”
Carter Center Assistant Director of the Democracy Project, Sarah Johnson, says, “General assessment is that we found the referendum process to be marked by an overwhelming turnout of enthusiastic voters. While several steps remain to be completed before the final results are announced, the referendum process to date is broadly consistent with international standards for democratic elections.”
Final results from the referendum are not expected until early next month. If voters approve independence, Southern Sudan would become a separate country in July.
What went right, what went wrong?
Besides the large voter turnout, Johnson says, “The voting started in a very timely manner on January 9th. The polling officials were very enthusiastic and diligent about fulfilling their duties and tasks…. Everything went in a smooth and peaceful manner. And we’re very happy to see the successful completion of the balloting period of the referendum.”
On the other hand she says, “There were some limited problems during the balloting, which I would like to underscore did not in our opinion undermine the credibility or the legitimacy of the referendum process. But they do deserve to be noted for future electoral processes in Sudan.”
The center found that “consideration committees” looking into voter complaints were not always available at polling stations.
“The eligibility criteria were unevenly applied and may have excluded the participation of some southern Sudanese in northern Sudan…. We also noted the absence of a large-scale voter education campaign…which we feel impacted the voters’ ability to make a more informed decision about their choice between unity or succession,” says Johnson.
The Carter Center official says, “The main challenges are addressing many of the post referendum issues and negotiations between the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) partners. There remains an outstanding issue of citizenship and the status of southern Sudanese in the north and northerners in south Sudan.”
Another outstanding issue is Abyei, a disputed oil rich border area that was supposed to hold its own referendum on whether to remain with the north or become part of the south. However, the vote failed to take place and it’s unclear when it might be held. Darfur, in western Sudan, also remains unresolved.