South Sudanese vote on independence

[TamilNet, Sunday, 09 January 2011, 13:17 GMT]
Huge numbers of South Sudanese have begun voting Sunday in a week-long referendum on independence from the northern Arab-dominated state. They are widely expected to back independence. Just under million voters have been registered for the election, which is part of the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war. 60,000 expatriate South Sudanese are also able to vote, including the Diaspora in Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For the UN Security Council-backed referendum to pass, 60% of those registered need to vote plus majority of ballots. Notably agreements on the demarcation of a north-south border and the distribution of oil revenue are to be decided after the election.

Historic moment

"This is an historic moment the people of Southern Sudan have been waiting for," South Sudanese leader Salva Kiir told the BBC amid scenes of jubilation.

He called on voters to "be patient," in case they were not able to cast their ballot on the first day of polling.

Chan Reec, deputy head of the South Sudan Referendum Commission, hailed the massive turnout in the first hours of the week-long independence vote.

"I can't express it. This is the size of turnout we have never witnessed before, even during the election," he said, referring to last April's presidential, parliamentary and state elections.

"There is singing, there is dancing, this is a day like no other in the history of the people of south Sudan."

Map of South Sudan
Map of South Sudan
International engagement

Dignitaries from around the world, including former US president Jimmy Carter, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, and former South African president Thabo Mbeki are in the country to observe the vote.

They are joined by hundreds of monitors deployed across the region, including those sent by EU, South Africa, Japan, Russia and China.

The European Union has meanwhile sent 110 observers, from 27 member states.

An intense US diplomatic push personally led by President Barack Obama and motivated by fears of cataclysmic bloodshed, helped underwrite the landmark independence referendum, AFP reported. A top target of US diplomacy was China.

While secession and popular democracy are troublesome for China, Beijing has called for a "free, fair, transparent, and peaceful" referendum and sent vote observers.

China is the key external power in Sudan as a result of the substantial assets that one key state-owned enterprise - China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) – and a supporter of the government of President Bashir who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Focused on ensuring oil supplies for it energy-hungry economy, China has more recently reached out to South Sudanese leaders also, reports said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that China hopes the vote will be held in a “fair, free, transparent and peaceful atmosphere and that all parties involved should be committed to peace and stability in Sudan.”

"We share an interest with China in a stable Sudan," said a US official. "It is absolutely not in their economic or political interest to see Sudan implode or return to massive widespread civil conflict between north and south."

US Senator John Kerry, apparently acting as an unofficial intermediary for the US government, put "strong possibilities" after independence for both north and south Sudan on the table.

He gave no details, but US officials have hinted that some US sanctions against Khartoum might be lifted if it respects its commitments.

The decades-long civil war fought between the Arab-dominated Sudanese state and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) that was ended by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), brokered by the Bush Administration

South Sudan joy

South Sudanese leader Kiir appeared early Sunday at a Juba polling centre near the simple mausoleum of John Garang, who led the south to a 2005 peace deal that ended a 22-year war with the north. He died in a helicopter crash soon after the deal was signed.

Addressing people gathered at the voting centre after he voted, Kiir paid tribute to Garang.

"Dr John Garang, and those that died with him in the struggle, are here with us today and we hope that they did not die in vain," Kiir said.

"This is the moment you have been waiting for," he told the huge crowd inside and outside the memorial grounds.

Head of the EU team in Juba Veronique De Keyser told the BBC voting appeared to have started well.

"What I observed this morning was very moving in the sense that you can feel it, in the crowd, the expectation of the people is important," she said.

"It's very, very well organised. People are queuing very quietly so far and I hope it reflects what is happening in the country today."

As he waited to vote in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, Abraham Parnyang told the BBC "My vote is for my mother and father, and my brothers and sisters who were murdered in the war."

"I also vote for my children-to-be … so that they can grow up in a south Sudan that is free and is at peace."


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