As South Sudan approaches its referendum, key developments covered in this issue include: challenges in the referendum planning process, still no deal on Abyei, minor progress on post-referendum negotiations, Pand rospects for a sustainable peace deal dwindle for Darfur.
- More challenges to come in the referendum planning process: As the successful registration process begins winding down, new threats to the referendum timeline and to peace more generally, begin to emerge.
- Still no deal on Abyei: The two parties accept the impossibility of holding a referendum in Abyei on January 9 and begin discussing various internationally-proposed options for the region.
- Minor progress on post-referendum negotiations: Mbeki announces the indefinite suspension of post-referendum talks this week, but the parties reach a minor agreement on oil.
- Prospects for a sustainable peace deal in the near future dwindle for Darfur: Violence continues to plague the regionas the various rebel groups pose new challenges to the government in both Doha and Darfur.
Having been extended by one week, the voter registration period for the southern referendum ended on Wednesday in Sudan, though registration for some in the southern diaspora was extended again to make up for initial delays. Aleu Garang Aleu, spokesman for the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, or SSRC, said that the registration process was a "success" and "peaceful." According to Aleu and the head of the SSRC, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, about 3 million southerners have registered to vote. Speaking in Khartoum on Wednesday, Khalil said that 40% of southerners had registered in the north, 60% in the south, and between 50 and 60% in the eight countries in which the diaspora is able to vote, according to the paper Al-Rai Al-Aam.
Ballots for the referendum have still not been printed, however. With the vote about five weeks away, the SSRC announced that it was reopening the bidding process for printing companies in order to allow Sudanese companies to compete. While this prompted speculation over whether the referendum could be held on time, SSRC deputy chairman, Justice Chan Reec Madut, said that this would not affect the timeline. The British company Tall Security Group won the tender and has committed to delivering the ballots by Christmas day.
Unfortunately, the SSRC continues to be woefully underfunded, which could threaten referendum preparations moving forward. The ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, and the Government of Southern Sudan, or GoSS, have both disbursed "some funds" but a “significant gap” remains.
Also worrisome are attempts, allegedly by the NCP, to dispute the legitimacy of the registration process, as well as the growing concern that it will contest the outcome of the referendum. A leading member of the NCP said it will not recognize the results of the referendum, citing violations of the Referendum Act by the SSRC and the ruling party in the South, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM. Rabie Abdelati Obeid said that a group of southerners has documented over 100 violations by the SSRC of the Referendum Act, including not taking action when the SPLM closed down several registration centers and allowing employees who are below the required age of 40 years to work at the centers. The group has reportedly filed a petition with the Sudanese Constitutional Court urging the court to disband the referendum commission based on these claims. Supporters of the SPLM, in response, have accused Khartoum of being behind the move to dissolve the commission, intent on thwarting the referendum preparations. The NCP has countered with claims that the SPLM has terrorized and intimidated voters. International observers, such as the Carter Center and the U.N. monitoring panel, have concluded that the process has been largely peaceful with some logistical challenges and irregularities.
The Elders, a group of eminent global leaders, issued a statement urging Sudan and the international community to ensure that the referendum respects “the will of the people,” is peaceful, timely and credible, and that the outcome is respected. In particular, the Elders urged:
- Sudanese leaders to come to an agreement on the citizenship of southerners living in the North;
- The international community to put measures in place to monitor and protect civilians and to engage with all the parties to ensure that violence does not occur, both during the referendum and in the coming months; and
- To come to a credible and sustainable solution to the deadlock over the referendum for self-determination of the Abyei Area.