Jubilation as south SUDAN VOTES for independence referendum
Special to USAfricaonline.com
Juba, Sudan (AFP) – Thousands of south Sudanese poured out to vote for a second straight day in a landmark independence referendum on Monday (January 10, 2011), bringing the region a step closer to becoming the world’s newest state.
Repeating the jubilant scenes witnessed on Sunday, huge queues formed outside polling stations in the regional capital Juba from long before dawn as voters seized the chance to have their say on whether to split Africa’s largest nation and put the seal on five decades of north-south conflict.
But a flare-up of violence in the disputed district of Abyei on the north-south border, where the feuding Misseriya Arab and Ngok Dinka peoples both reported heavy losses over the past three days totalling at least 33 dead, overshadowed the massive vote in the south.
Tensions in the district have been rising with the launch of the southern referendum. Abyei had been due to hold a simultaneous plebiscite on its own future but it has been indefinitely postponed.
The three main Western brokers of the north-south peace process — Britain, Norway and the United States — expressed their “deep concerns” about the situation in district on Sunday while commending the “people of
Abyei for their patience in recent months”.
The scale of the turnout on the second of the seven days of polling brings the south a big step closer to the 60 percent threshold set by a 2005 peace deal between north and south for the referendum to be valid.
Provincial towns recorded similar crowds outside polling stations to those in Juba.
In Wau, capital of Western Bahr al-Ghazal, state governor Rezik Zackaria Hassen said he was confident that all registered voters would have cast their ballots well before the end of the polling period.
“We believe we can complete all the voting in four days,” he said.
One polling station in the Lakes state capital Rumbek processed more than 600 people voters on the first day alone, a quarter of the total number registered to vote.
“The only complaints were those who left disappointed after waiting so long in the sun but who did not get to vote because the time ran out,” said state governor Chol Tong Mayay.
“Many had to walk three or four hours each way to reach a centre but they can vote today or in the following days.”
In the smaller towns and vast countryside of south Sudan, many polling stations are out in the open, making it impossible for staff to stay open much beyond the appointed 5:00 pm close of polls to cater for the backlog of eager voters as many did in the regional capital Juba on Sunday.
The Lakes state governor said that his one concern was that even with a seven-day polling period some voters might not be able to cast their ballot because they had been forced to move with their livestock over large distances to find water and pasture.
In the regional capital, many voters were taking drastic action to ensure they got to vote on the second day after being disappointed on Sunday.
“I came at 2:00 am. Today I was the first to vote,” James Khor Chol, 28, said proudly.
Like many in this mainly Christian region, Chol had gone to church on Sunday before going to the polling station where he was overwhelmed by the queues.
Many were wearing their Sunday best again on Monday as they cast their vote on whether to break away from the mainly Arab Muslim north.
Some 3.75 million people are registered to vote in the south and around 117,000 in north Sudan, the majority in the capital Khartoum. Emigres were also able to vote in eight countries abroad.
Final results are not expected until next month because of the problems involved in collecting ballot boxes in a vast, war-ravaged region which has just 40 kilometres (25 miles) of tarmac road.
The independence referendum is the centrepiece of the 2005 north-south peace deal that ended a devastating 22-year civil war in which some two million people were killed and another four million fled their homes.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, an army man who led the north’s war against the south for a decade and a half before signing the peace deal six years ago, has said he will respect the vote’s outcome if it is “free and transparent.”