January 9, 2011 is finally here. The promise in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 provided for the Referendum to allow the South to vote for independence or unity. Unable to contain their excitement, Southerners began lining up at midnight—men and women in separate queues. On this first day of voting, people waited hours in the hot sun for their chance to drop a ballot in the box. The polls opened at 8 am and closed today at 2 pm, leaving many still waiting to vote. Tomorrow the polls will stay open until 3:00 and continue each day through January 15.
South Sudanese President Silva Kiir was among the first to cast his vote in Juba, the capital city, at the Dr. John Garang Mausoleum poling station. The President held up his ink-stained hand to show reporters and declared, “This is the historic moment the people of South Sudan have been waiting for.”
If 60% of the registered voters actually vote, then a simple majority will determine the outcome. In the South 3.75 million people registered along with another 117,000 Southerners living in the North. Among those in the Diaspora where there is a concentration of Southern Sudanese, 60,000 have registered.
The mood in Juba, and no doubt everywhere people were voting, was jubilant with singing and dancing. Actor George Clooney and U. S. Senator John Kerry mingled with the brightly-dressed crowd that burst into singing the hymn, “This is the day the Lord has made.” Clooney told Reuters, “It is something to see people actually voting for their freedom. That’s not something you see often in your life.”
Former US president, Jimmy Carter, and UN chief Kofi Annan were there. Mr. Annan said, “It is important that the energy and enthusiasm lead to solid results that are accepted by everybody.” President Carter remarked that the expection of violence had greatly receded in recent days. But no one was taking chances. In large numbers the police monitored the polling stations throughout the country. President Al-Bashir. who had strongly advocated unity, spoke in more conciliatory terms in recent days, declaring that he would support the result of the vote.
That result, however, will not be announced until early February, after all the ballots have been collected from remote areas and the eight foreign countries—and counted.