The self-determination process in Sudan is in danger. With ten weeks remaining before a referendum on the possible secession of Southern Sudan, preparations for registration of voters have only just started.
In Abyei, where a separate referendum is due to take place, they have not yet begun.
The process has been dogged by delays and disputes between the National Congress Party (NCP), which dominates the National Government in Khartoum, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main party in the Government of Southern Sudan.
The short time now remaining means technical deficiencies in the conduct of the referenda are likely. This will mean that the outcome of the southern referendum – widely expected to be a vote for separation of Southern Sudan from the north – could be disputed, renewing the threat of war.
Earlier this week a critical meeting in Addis Ababa to resolve the impasse was canceled. An SPLA representative accused the NCP of holding the peace process ransom over Abyei.
A forthcoming major report from the Rift Valley Institute argues that a new deal is necessary between the SPLM and the NCP, the two parties to Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The report, Race Against Time, documents the many unresolved problems of the referenda and the technical challenges presented by the compressed timetable for registration and voting. It draws lessons from Sudan’s flawed national elections earlier this year.
Postponement of the referenda will not solve the problem, the report argues. Nevertheless, the SPLM may have to agree to delay the Abyei referendum in order for the southern referendum to stay on track.
“At this final stage,” the report concludes, “brinkmanship, delay and broken agreements – old traditions of Sudanese politics – threaten to turn the political and technical challenges of the referenda into a national disaster. Only concerted international attention and skilful diplomacy can now bring the process of self-determination in Sudan to a successful conclusion.”
Race Against Time is the third in a sequence of reports on the electoral process in Sudan from the Rift Valley Institute. The two previous reports are Elections in Sudan – Learning from Experience and Electoral Designs.
The report also provides timelines, a guide to electoral bodies in Sudan, comparisons with other referenda and a comprehensive bibliography of legislative and other current documents.
Aly Verjee was Deputy Director of the Carter Center’s international election observation mission in Sudan from its inception in early 2008 to January 2010. He has worked in Sudan since 2005 and is currently an independent analyst specializing in the contemporary politics of Sudan and the Horn of Africa. He has also been involved with international support for electoral processes in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somaliland.