Southern Sudan’s week long independence referendum was free and fair, independent poll monitors have reported and turn out heavy.
The results of the referendum on independence for the Southern African, Christian half of Sudan from the Northern Muslim, Arab governing in Khartoum are being tallied this week, but preliminary returns suggest an overwhelming vote for independence.
On Jan 17, the chairman of the Unity State referendum committee, Michael Mayil Chol, reported that 494,196 voters (98.8 per cent) had cast their votes in the oil rich state along the border with Northern Sudan, the Sudan Tribune reported.
Speaking on Southern Sudan Television the Chairman of the Referendum Commission Prof. Ibrahim Mohamed Khalil said preliminary estimates of voter turnout was 97 per cent in Southern Sudan, 54 per cent among Southerners residing in Northern Sudan, and 91 per cent among members of the Sudanese Diaspora.
Initial tallies show an overwhelming vote for independence. In Yei County along Sudan’s border with Uganda, 83,182 votes for secession were cast and 836 votes for continued union with Khartoum.
The Archbishop of Sudan, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng and his Roman Catholic counterpart Archbishop Paulino Lukudu traveled to the Hai Jalaba Junior School polling station in Juba on Jan 9 to cast their votes
“We have been waiting fifty five years for this day,” Dr. Deng said. “This is the day, this is our time.”
The Episcopal Church of the Sudan reports that after the two archbishops voted, they were introduced to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, one of 4000 domestic and international observers monitoring the vote.
The church reported that “on inspecting the two archbishops hands” which were marked with ink to show they had voted, President Carter “quickly noticed four inky fingers and thumbs between the two archbishops instead of the two he had expected.”
The former US president “was quickly reassured by the Archbishops that this was standard procedure, and not an indication that they had voted twice.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the international observers’ assessment that the referendum process has been conducted in a credible manner.
“Last week the people of Southern Sudan turned out in large numbers to cast their votes in the historic Referendum,” he said on Jan 18.
“We have seen people queuing for hours at polling centres, waiting patiently and calmly for the opportunity to express their view,” he said, adding that the “successful conclusion of voting represents a momentous step towards completion of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).”
There remain major challenges ahead in the coming months, Mr. Hague said. “I welcome the clear and united signal from the international community of its strong support for Sudan at this critical moment. During polling I spoke to both Vice President Taha and Southern President Kiir about the need to resume negotiations on the outstanding CPA issues as soon as possible. The British Government will continue to play its part to help ensure a lasting peace,” the foreign secretary said.
Photo: Archbishop Daniel Deng of the Sudan greeting former US President Jimmy Carter at a polling station in Juba on Jan 9.