The U.S. State Department said it was optimistic ahead of the vote, which is due to begin in six days and marks the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war in Sudan that killed at least 2 million people and destablised much of the region.
“At this point, we are optimistic about the referendum this coming weekend,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing in Washington.
Southerners are expected to vote to separate from the north and form a new nation.
“The total number of people registered in the south, in the eight countries abroad and in the states of northern Sudan is 3,930,916,” said Chan Reek Madut, a member of the referendum’s organising commission.
The vast majority of voters are in the southern region. Only some sixty thousand registered in the diaspora and less than 120,000 in the north, amid accusations of voter intimidation and a fear of reprisals should the south separate.
The south’s population was estimated to be 8 million in the latest census.
THE RIGHT SIGNALS
Madut said 52 percent of those registered were women. Organisers made a concerted effort to ensure women, often uneducated in rural areas, were able to sign up to vote.
All voting materials are expected to be in place across the region by Tuesday, dispelling fears that the late awarding of a tender to print ballot papers could delay the vote.
The State Department’s Crowley said both the Obama administration’s special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, and Princeton Lyman, a veteran U.S. diplomat named to help negotiations between north and south, would be in Sudan for the vote, and said both sides appeared to be sending “the right signals” about the need for an open and credible process.
But he noted that the two sides remain split on key issues including border demarcation, the fate of the disputed region of Abyei, and the sharing of oil revenues — any of which could spark potential confrontation in the weeks following the referendum.
“The environment, we think, is constructive leading into this weekend. But we understand there are still many unresolved issues,” Crowley said.
Madut said the option to extend the voting period was still available to organisers.
“If it appears there is a good reason we will recommend to the commission that there be an extension,” he said.
In order to be valid, the referendum requires that 60 percent of those registered turn out to vote. Reuters