South Sudan Watch: Gerrymandering, Sudan-Style

JUBA, Sudan—Sudan’s national elections in April highlighted the fact that elections are a process, not a one-day event that happens only on polling day (or during polling period, since Sudan had five days of polling). This is significant because a process can be manipulated more easily and more subtly than a one-day or five-day event. Some thoughts on this note…

An analyst friend of mine has examined “lessons learned” from the elections with an aim of providing recommendations for the conduct of the referendum (I’ll highlight his paper on this blog when it is published). He argues that the conventional wisdom on the relationship between Sudan’s April elections and the looming southern self-determination vote is wrong. According to my friend, who has worked on elections in several contexts, the idea that the two events are markedly different and should be treated so runs contrary to the fact that the referendum and elections are in fact quite similar from a technical stand point. So if there’s anything to be learned from the April polls, it’s that what happens in the run-up to the polls—for example, during voter registration—can and will likely have a big impact on the fairness and credibility of the south’s independence vote on January 9, 2011.

Today I had the chance to interview the deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, and the head of the commission’s southern bureau, Justice Chan Reec Madut. The interview didn’t yield any stories for the AP wire, but I wanted to share his insights. Justice Chan is the deputy chief justice of the Supreme Court of Southern Sudan, has been serving on the bench in Sudan since 1979, and has a degree in legal anthropology from Harvard.  Ithoroughly enjoyed hearing his perspectives on referendum-related issues. Here’s part of the transcript from the interview:

Under the elections law, the secretary-general had a lot of power and he was able to manipulate things. And even the state high committees in the southern were all answerable to Khartoum. Now the high committees report to the southern bureau which is here [in Juba]. So we have a chance of correcting things…

There are attempts currently being made by the [southern] Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to transport people living in the north to the south. I don’t know how soon they are going to do that. But certainly there will be [some southerners] there who will hang around. They have been there for 20 years, through the war. They will have difficulties coming down here. They don’t have houses here anymore and their children are in school [in the north]. So we certainly consider some of them will stay there and that they will register there. But voting in northern Sudan is our greatest area of fear. Because there are talks in the media that there are two million southerners in the north which is not true because during the census Khartoum went on record saying there were 500,000 there so how did it jump like that? So you can see that kind of mentality, it is an indication that this issue could be manipulated.

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