23 December 2010 – Officials of the United Nations Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division (UNIRED) delivered over seven million ballot papers to the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in a formal ceremony held at the UNIRED warehouse near Juba International Airport today.
The bureau's chairperson Justice Chan Reec Madut accepted the ballots and polling kits on behalf of "the people of South Sudan" and urged all registered voters to cast their ballots during the seven-day polling period that begins on 9 January 2011.
"This is a great day," said Mr. Madut, who also serves as deputy chairperson of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC). "Receiving these papers at this point in time is the last step but one, (and) the last step is the day when we are going to be before the polling booths."
Adverse weather conditions in Europe threatened to delay the delivery of the ballot papers that were printed in Britain, but in the event they arrived in Juba on the scheduled date of 22 December.
The lion's share of the ballot papers that arrived in the country this week will stay in Southern Sudan, and distribution of the voting materials to the region's ten state capitals has already begun.
Ballots were flown to Khartoum earlier today for use in referendum centres in the north, and a similar handover ceremony was simultaneously held at the SSRC's headquarters today where its Secretary General Mohamed Osman Al-Nijoumi accepted an outsized ballot facsimile from UNIRED Director Denis Kadima.
"Just a few months ago, not many would have predicted that we would be standing here today handing over the referendum polling material," said Mr. Kadima. "We are here not only to symbolically hand over the ballots and other materials, but to acknowledge the magnitude of work that you and the members and staff of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission have accomplished."
Mr. Madut thanked "our international friends and donors" who donated $58 million to a UN Development Basket Fund earmarked for the referendum process. He hailed the logistical support and technical advice provided by the UN and other international partners.
Speaking on behalf of the UN community in Southern Sudan, UNIRED Deputy Director Eamon O'Mordha hailed the recent completion of voter registration for the referendum as "a tremendous achievement" and congratulated the SSRC and its Juba-based bureau for its successful implementation despite "an extremely tight timeline."
"The most important group in the referendum process are the voters themselves, and it is with the ballot papers where the voters make their own individual choice," said Mr. O'Mordha. "I am happy to say that all the materials and plans are in place to meet the goal of a timely start to the referendum."
Mr. Madut told the assembled election authorities, diplomats and journalists that any unused ballots would be collected and publicly destroyed.