About the Author: Ambassador Barrie Walkley serves as the U.S. Consul General in Juba, Sudan.
Early Monday morning, I was present as Salva Kiir Mayardit, First Vice President of Sudan, registered to vote in the Southern Sudan referendum. The crowd's excitement was tangible as Vice President Kiir arrived at the voter registration center next to the John Garang mausoleum in Juba, presented the required identification document, and received his voter registration card. President Kiir received cheers from the assembled crowd when he held up his finger, stained with purple ink, to prove that he had registered.
Later in the day, I accompanied Justice Chan Reec Madut, Chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, on a visit to Torit, Eastern Equatoria, to observe the process there on the first day of registration. We stopped at several registration centers, including one in a predominantly Muslim area of town. The population in Torit, as elsewhere in southern Sudan, was in general excited about registering for the referendum, with a large crowd and assorted groups of traditional dancers gathered outside the local registration committee offices. The mood at all centers visited, however, was one of calm and order. The Governor of Eastern Equatoria told Justice Chan that freedom of speech is being protected and that opposing points of view -- for unity or for separation -- are being allowed full expression.
In the next few weeks, more than 5 million people may register to participate in the Southern Sudan referendum. More than 2,500 registration centers in Southern Sudan expect to register as many as 4,795,995 voters. In the North, 165 centers will receive an estimated 274,064 voters. Around the world, 209 registration locations in eight locations outside of Sudan will register as approximately 352,725 people using materials procured by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems with the financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The hard work of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, the CPA parties, and the international community has been vital to this effort.
The international community is hard at work monitoring the voter registration process. With USAID funding, the Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections (SuNDE) will deploy 500 observers in the South during voter registration, and the Sudanese Group for Democracy and Elections (SuGDE) will deploy 200 observers in the North. USAID's partner for international observation, the Carter Center, has had long-term observers on the ground in Sudan since September, and more international observers will arrive this week.
The start of voter registration for the Southern Sudan referendum is an important milestone for the CPA parties, and a major step toward full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The start of voter registration moves the parties closer to meeting their shared commitment of conducting a peaceful, on-time referendum that reflects the will of the people of Southern Sudan.