Abyei finally Conducts the Referendum

Abyei Vote8

Residents of Abyei que in a polling station in Abyei Town. Voters have turned to vote for the referendum in thousands.

On Sunday 28th October 2013, the Ngok Dinka residents of Abyei went to the polling stations to determine their “final status.” This is a ‘unilateral’ referendum which is meant to determine whether it will be possible to split from Sudan and join South Sudan. Ballots were printed with two symbols: a sign of two hands clasped and another one of one hand alone. The former symbol meant continued unity with Sudan, the latter separation from Sudan. Voters turned out in thousands at 29 voting centers across the Abyei region, 4 of which were in Abyei town. In the past months, there was a massive voter registration exercise and compilation of voter registers. During the voting exercise, each  voter first checked whether his or her name was in the referendum register. He or she was then given a ballot paper and marker pen before being sent to a separate place to cast the vote. The voter marked his or her choice with a pen or thumbprint.

Voters cross checking their names with poll clerks.

Voters cross checking their names with poll clerks.

The Abyei referendum is in defiance to  the directive by heads of states of South Sudan and Sudan amid concerns that the poll had the potential to destabilize bilateral relations between the two countries as well as with the neighboring Misseriya tribe. The poll also defied the advise of African Union and the International community. According to a letter addressed to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AU-PSC) by the NIne Dinka Chiefdoms of Abyei Area of 26th October 2013, the right of self determination for the people of Abyei was affirmed in Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the then South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM), in 1995 by all Sudanese opposition parties, in the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement between GoS and SPLM/A and in 2012 by the Africa Union Commission.

A voter at the polling station

A voter at the polling station

South Sudan’s government has warned that it will not consider the poll legitimate and denied participating in the logistical preparations for the conduct of the vote. Leaders of the Ngok Dinka,  point to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, according to which the Abyei Referendum was supposed to take place concurrently with South Sudan’s referendum. The Ngok Dinka rushed to hold the vote before the end of this month because the African Union had set a one-year target for holding the vote when it sought endorsement of a plan of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel in October a year ago.

A sample of the voter register in Abyei. Voters have to first countercheck their names before going to poll.

A sample of the voter register in Abyei. Voters have to first countercheck their names before going to poll.

Although there is no formal international election observation mission in the region, members of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) are taking part in observing the poll, among others. The voting was thorough and all attempts were taken to ensure that there is no rigging. The voting is expected to end in three days and the results will be announced on the 1st of November 2013.

Time to cast the ballot. All ballot boxes were transparent.

Time to cast the ballot. All ballot boxes were transparent.

Abyei Vote6

After the voting process voters dipped their fingers in ink in order. This identified those who had voted from those who had not.

Abyei Vote5

“I have voted at last. I have made my voice heard about this referendum.” This seems to be the message conveyed by this woman showing her coloured finger.

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