Nearly 4 million people are registered to vote in a referendum on independence for South Sudan to be held on Jan. 9. Some observers are concerned that South Sudan's poor infrastructure and underlying political issues could delay the polls.
AFP - Almost four million people have signed up to vote in southern Sudan's independence referendum due to begin on Sunday, its organisers announced, ahead of a rare visit to the region by President Omar al-Bashir.
"The total number of people registered in the south Sudan, in the eight countries abroad and the states in northern Sudan, stands at 3,930,916," Chan Reec, deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), said on Monday in Juba.
However, the vast majority were in the south, with just 116,860 in the north -- 2.9 percent -- and 60,241 outside Sudan, or 1.5 percent.
Overall, 51 percent are women, Reec told reporters in southern capital.
"By the latest tomorrow (Tuesday) all the ballot papers will be in the centres," said Reec, who also heads the referendum commission’s bureau in the south.
"We are really 100 percent prepared for the great day."
The registration process was launched on November 15 for a two-week period but extended by one week because of high demand in the south and to encourage a larger turnout by southerners living in north Sudan.
Voter registration also took place in neighbouring Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt, as well as in Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada.
Those eligible to vote include permanent residents of south Sudan since 1956, when the country gained independence, and those who can trace their ancestry to an established south Sudan tribe.
Observers are predicting overwhelming support for secession.
But for the vote to be valid at least 60 percent of those registered must cast their ballot, and there are concerns about the transparency of a voting process that will mostly take place in one of Africa's least developed regions.
International bodies charged with monitoring the referendum include the Carter Centre, the European Union and the Arab League.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is expected to travel to Juba on Tuesday, where he is due to meet Salva Kiir, leader of former southern rebel group the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and president of the semi-autonomous southern region.
"Many people are concerned (about Bashir). Personally I believe southern Sudanese have already made up their minds. They have already choosen freedom or independence," Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the SPLM's southern branch, told reporters.
"No matter what anybody does, I don’t think it will change, so there shouldn’t be any fear of the president of the republic coming to Juba. He is welcome," she added.
"He will get to know what southern Sudanese want, to really see in a peaceful manner the choice of the south."
Reec said the SSRC was still awaiting funding from the national government in Khartoum, having so received 51 million Sudanese pounds from the southern government, and other funds from international donors.
He hoped the government would "deliver on its pledges and obligations."
"If it doesn’t, it will still go down in history as one good thing that the referendum was done without a penny from Khartoum," he added.
North and south Sudan signed a peace deal in 2005 after a devastating 22-year civil war, with a referendum on whether the south secedes or remains part of a united country included in that deal.
Date created : 2011-01-03