“I was born during wartime, I grew up during wartime and I didn’t think there would be a time like this for us southerners,” said the 21-year-old secondary school student, as he waited to vote at Juba University campus.
Voting in Southern Sudan’s long-awaited referendum will begin on 9 January 2011. If the initial day of voter registration was anything to go by, enthusiasm is running high among the region’s residents as they look ahead to the historic balloting.
“I’m happy, it’s just like a birthday for somebody,” said Charles Ruben Mamur, a 54-year-old retiree and Juba resident.
Queues of eligible voters started forming outside many of the 2,630 registration centres scattered across Southern Sudan even before they were scheduled to open at 8 a.m. on Monday.
“I came to register to determine the fate of South Sudan,” said Malakal trader Isaac Makuri. “I encouraged my wife and kids to register too.”
Replacing his trademark black hat with a white baseball cap bearing the slogan, “Your Vote, Your Voice,” Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit registered in the morning at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba.
No major irregularities were reported on the first day of the registration exercise, which ends on 1 December.
“We have toured all the centers in Wau, and 98 per cent of the process is going on well,” said Wol Madut Chan, Chairperson of the Western Bahr El-Ghazal State Referendum High Committee.
Mr. Chan and other officials acknowledged there were complaints over long delays encountered at some registration centres processing the required paperwork at a snail’s pace.
Miraya FM reported that registration at two centres in the Lakes State county of Wulu was delayed this morning when two officials assigned to those facilities were briefly detained by authorities in the neighbouring county of Mvolo, Western Equatoria State.
Voters who failed to turn up with suitable identification posed problems of a different order, but officials in some states anticipated that contingency and made arrangements in advance.
“We expected this issue to happen so we invited a local chief to identify whether this person is really from the south and is living in the area,” said Upper Nile State Referendum High Committee member James Daniel Chuang.
A number of voters cited their children’s welfare as one of the most compelling reasons for register to vote in the 2011 referendum.
“I came here to register because this has something to do with the future of South Sudan,” said Nyapal Puok Deng, a 25-year-old mother of three who registered at a teaching institute in Malakal on Monday. “This is also the future of my children.”
In North Sudan, registration kicked off in 165 centres, but turnout was low on the first day. According to Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Executive Media Officer Mamoun Mousa, one of the reasons for this was that centre locations had been published in local newspapers only today.
Members of the independent UN Panel on the Referenda in Sudan, currently on their second visit to the country, toured several camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) around Khartoum this morning.
“We have come to see and hear for ourselves about the arrangements for the start of the registration,” panel Chairman Benjamin Mkapa said to Mayo IDP camp residents.
Some IDP representatives complained that registration centres were located in areas distanced from where large numbers of Southern Sudanese lived.