Almost 4 million people have signed up to vote in southern Sudan’s independence referendum due to begin on Sunday, its organizers said ahead of a rare visit to the region by Sudanese 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, 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 [yesterday] all the ballot papers will be in the centers,” 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 Nov. 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 neighboring Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt, as well as in Australia, Britain, the US 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.
However, 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 EU and the Arab League.
Bashir was expected to travel to Juba yesterday, where he is due to meet Salva Kiir, leader of former southern rebel group the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) 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 chosen freedom or independence,” said Anne Itto, deputy secretary general of the SPLM’s southern branch. “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.”
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