Will Southern Sudan finally be free?


Following the upping of the stakes by the Southern Sudanese leadership, the regime in Khartoum finally accepted that a simple 51 percent majority will in 2011 decide on the future of the now semi-autonomous region. The SPLM (Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement)-led southern coalition had threatened to boycott the last parliamentary session before the elections next year should no consensus be achieved on the referendum bill, after the regime had set their demands as high as 90 percent yes vote to be able to claim independence.

It was learned from usually well-informed sources in Juba that the independence vote will take place between January 9 to 11, 2011, and that success requires a 2/3 turnout of registered voters, failing which the exercise must be repeated within two months. Southern Sudanese living in the North or abroad will also be able to cast their votes, to allow the Southern Sudanese in the Diaspora, too, to determine their own future.

The South also carried the day when matters pertaining to citizenship, international obligations, debts, assets, water, etc. were pushed to post referendum negotiations, while the Northern regime had wanted to resolve all these matter pre-referendum in a blatant attempt to further delay an agreement.

In a significant further development, the regime also agreed NOT to rely on any of the allegedly doctored census results in regard to the referendum, although they still insist that the constituency revisions for the forthcoming national elections would rely on those results, a matter of “no-go” for the Southern leadership.

The fate of the southern state of Abyei, source of much of the oil found and pumped in the Sudan at present, will also be decided at the same time when Abyei residents will vote on whether to join the South or remain as part of the Northern Sudan. Similar referenda will also take place in Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains to permit them determine their future.

One of the bigger opposition parties in the North, the Democratic Unionist Party was, however, quick to criticize the deal, insisting on a 75 percent margin of yes votes to permit secession by the South, but were other than making the predictable noises not successful to reverse the agreement.

In a related development, have the actions of the regime in Khartoum been punished by the Obama administration, which kept sanctions in place for the time being, a blow to the unjustified expectations and extortionist attempts by the regime. Sources from the South welcomed the decision and expressed their hope that the ongoing sanctions, combined with a regime of incentives vis-a-vis good behavior and progress in Darfur and the pending issues with the Southern government, can now open the door to resolve such crucial matters as the referendum bill, constituency demarcations for the elections next year, review and revise census results and – after a full audit on the oil revenues – remit the agreed share to the South. Issues like the alleged re-arming of the northern army by China and other sympathizer countries of the Khartoum regime will also matter before the partial lifting of sanctions can be considered.