20 January 2011 - The Southern Sudan self-determination referendum allowed people to freely and fairly express their will in a credible process, although there were important shortcomings, according to domestic observers to the poll.
Speaking at a press conference today in Juba, the Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections (SuNDE) and Sudanese Group for Democracy and Elections (SuGDE) particularly noted high voter participation and the peaceful voting process.
"Turnout was massive, in a peaceful environment, and administrative procedures met national legal requirements in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation," the observer groups said in a joint statement issued after the briefing.
No incidents of violence or intimidation were reported during polling and counting, the observers said, commending the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) for engaging civil society organizations to carry out referendum awareness.
"It's very important to actively engage citizens in an informed manner in making decisions like what we have just seen to avoid violence or intimidation," said SuNDE Coordinator Yakani Edmund.
The observers also noted that ballots were being counted fairly and accurately, although some polling centres had begun counting them on the second day of the week-long ballot, rather than after the final vote was cast on 15 January.
"According to our observations, 98 per cent of the northern centers and 82 per cent in the south counted their ballots on January 15, while 2 percent and 18 per cent counted on 16 January, respectively,' said Mr. Edmund.
He added less than 1 per cent of ballots cast in the south and about 2 per cent in the north were being considered invalid.
Commenting on shortcomings observed, Mr. Edmund said, "We have witnessed voters putting on campaign t-shirts, caps, among others during polling, which according to the referendum law would have not been done."
But he attributed the irregularity to voter ignorance, as this was only the second time (the first being national elections) that voters had participated in a balloting process.
SuNDE Chairperson Lony Rout noted that tabulation officials had initially refused entry to accredited SuNDE observers in Wau, Malakal and Renk centres, although Bureau (SSRB) officials had eventually resolved the issue.
Mr. Rout urged northern and southern leaders to refrain from using inflammatory statements, which could heighten public tension during tabulation or after the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) announced official results.
Also attending was SSRB Chairperson Justice Chan Reec Madut, who urged the people of Southern Sudan to be patient, and to avoid celebrating until results were officially announced.
"When we have finished collecting the results in two days time, we will post the preliminary results in our websites for people to access," said Mr. Madut.
He added that the tentative date for announcement of preliminary results for southern states would be 30 January. On 2 February, the SSRC would announce preliminary results for the referendum and final results would be announced on 7 February, in the absence of appeals.
"If there are appeals, the official results will be announced on the 14 February," said Justice Madut.
The domestic observers also urged the CPA parties to fully to inform the public about post-referendum issues.
"The two parties should fulfill their remaining commitments within the CPA and dedicate themselves to the peaceful negotiation of all the outstanding issues, including the resolution of all issues surrounding Abyei," said SuNDE Coordinator Yakani Edmund.