Voting stations closed on Saturday night and counting has already begun in Sudan’s referendum. But for Southern Sudan this will just be a formality.
Samples taken of the voting ballots suggest 96% of people were in favour of separation from the North, a huge majority in support of separation. Reports state that over 85% of registered voters took part, which is well above the 60% requirement for the referendum to be valid. International observers have already stated that the referendum was carried out in a legitimate fashion, with US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon praising the vote.
From these reports the 14th of February (the date when the official result is meant to be announced) may well be a formality. It will essentially be the date that puts the rubber stamp on a referendum result in favour of separation, so giving the seal of approval for a new independent Southern Sudan to form on 9 July.
For some looking back over the referendum week, it will be marred by the violent clashes in the Abyei (and other) regions. Over 40 people died over the week and many more have been injured. For others, this could have been a lot worse. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and US diplomats should be congratulated on their work with local officials in organising a deal to end fighting in the Abyei region. The two day consultation between the Dinka Ngok (whom generally think the Abyei region belongs in the south) and the nomadic Arab Misseriya (whom generally see it as northern) finished on Friday with a peace deal, which will likely have saved many lives. While the agreement does not address the greater question of what will happen to Abyei in regards to the holding of its own referendum on whether to be part of the North or South, it was an important moment in the week, and also for both North and South Sudan’s future.
Other important moments included former US President Jimmy Carter’s report that Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir has offered to take on all the $38Bn sovereign debt if the country splits; effectively giving Southern Sudan a clean sheet. While some may be concerned that unless the South provides it with greater oil revenues from their shared oil fields this will leave the North with a crippling debt ratio, it is an interesting development for future North-South negotiations.
President Bashir’s other comments, made the day before the referendum, in which he stated that after a North-South split he will not be granting dual citizenship to Southern citizens are also interesting developments. Citizenship was, and is still, an unresolved issue between the Khartoum and Southern governments. For nomad farmers who move north and south of the border according to grazing season, this lack of dual citizenship is a pressing concern. President Bashir’s public comments provide some clarity on his preferred option, which will be important as negotiations between the North and the South move towards border demarcation and citizenship issues.
Overall though, those looking back on the referendum week will perhaps only remember one thing: the jubilant atmosphere and celebrations in the South. The majority of Southern Sudanese have wanted independence for a long time and this week will most likely be viewed as crucial in achieving it. Of course there are still many issues to address, but this last week has been a key step for all of Sudan.
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