Friday, August 13, 2010

Referendum options

"the hopes and expectations of the people of south Sudan are so pinned on that date that it would be dangerous to postpone it because the level of frustration and disappointment would be so high for anybody to manage."

That is Pagan Amum, the Minister of Peace, on why the referendum can’t be delayed. For the past couple of weeks, there has been a growing fear amongst the government and population of South Sudan over the potential delay of the referendum. What began as a statement, that was apparently misattributed to Pagan Amum, on the possibility of delays have begun to become more of a reality as disagreements over the selection of a secretary general for the referendum commission seeks to stall the entire process.

Tarek Osman Al-Tahir, a member of the referendum commission at the headquarters in Khartoum suggests:

“We have only two choices left: skip some of the procedures, which would be unacceptable because it could affect the endorsement of the referendum result or resort to the other choice of a limited delay to the referendum timetable to complete these procedures.” source

The first choice would probably work out favourably for Khartoum as a lack of registered voters will result in insufficient votes for secession. The second choice would be, as Amum puts it, “dangerous...because the level of frustration and disappointment would be so high for anybody to manage” and we will probably start to see an increase in violence from the civilian population if not from the military itself.

On the other hand, Pagan Amum also suggests 2 possibilities:

"One of them could be that the parliament of southern Sudan takes over the process of organising the referendum fully without the north if the obstruction is coming from the north,"

"Another one would be carrying out a vote in parliament which is not necessarily a universal declaration of independence," Source

These two possibilities have been the hot topic under the mango tree recently. Well, maybe just the latter. Khartoum would never stand for the parliament of South Sudan to simply take over the process of organising the referendum, as the CPA states that the process shall be conducted by both parties. So if they were going to go against the CPA, then there really isn’t much point in even completing the referendum process, which leads us to the second option...

Amum says that carrying out a vote in parliament is not necessarily a universal declaration of independence. Now, this can be interpreted in 2 ways. Firstly, it could mean that if the commission simply skipped a few processes by doing away with voter registration and doing away with the voters all together, parliament could vote as representatives of the population on the 9th of January. This seems somewhat feasible, but as the CPA has established deadlines for these processes, it may be rather difficult to argue against the necessity of including public voters in the referendum.

The second interpretation is a bit trickier because he says that a vote in parliament would not be interpreted as a unilateral (he says universal, but I’m sure he meant unilateral) declaration of independence. So we have to assume that either he really does not know what he is talking about, or he has some diabolical legal magic trick up his sleeve that will dazzle the world into not realising that South Sudan has in fact just unilaterally declared independence.

The thing is, the CPA and the subsequent Referendum Act doesn’t really provide sufficient information to deal with contingencies such as this. It gave a lot of power to the Referendum Commission to deal with the various issues that were bound to come up, such as the delaying of the referendum, but it seems that it didn’t really plan on the Commission having such difficulties in establishing itself. All that is left now is for renegotiations to take place. But this would only lead to a delay in the referendum, an idea that Pagan Amum has hinted to being very unlikely. Therefore, all it takes is for GoSS to come up with a good reason to decide that Khartoum is sabotaging the process and to declare the CPA null and void. This will subsequently open the doors to a unilateral declaration of independence, a decision that leaves the fate of South Sudan’s independence to the international community. But I’m sure they will work out, 22 years of war is still a 22 year relationship right?......


  1. Whoah....Didn't realise how much of a long winded rant that was until I actually posted it. My apologies, as I would typically not bother reading a blog post that long. Respect if you do though.

  2. Bored in Post-Conflict:

    Your post is very interesting. It seems to show that, regarding the secession vote, the governments of Sudan cannot avoid instigating violence. Where as a delay in voting will probably rouse public ire because they do not want to see delay, as Pagan Amum predicts, no delay in voting, as Ambassador John Andruga Duku of Southern Sudan and David de Chan of the Southern Sudan Democratic Front argue, will mean a lack of preparation for the vote, which will create an unstable situation. Either way violence is likely and the situation seems bleak.

    My information comes from, an informative video that I think would complement your post nicely. I hope you'll consider embedding it since the video helps show the brewing conflict and disagreement surrounding the secession vote.


  3. Well, the video....despite trying to be all neutral and informative with its multiple sources (don't all news agencies have multiple sources anyway) still takes a stand on a negative position towards South Sudan.

    I would suggest reading a more positive spin on the matter:

    Also, I was just writing on the potential option scenario that could lead to an unilateral declaration of independence. However, once again, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the parties have returned to negotiations and are continuing to work for a timely referendum. I will cover this when I have a bit more time.

    This is the beautiful thing about working in South Sudan, the politics is always changing, and more often than not, for the better.