Sudan referendum votes reveal landslide support for independence

The overwhelming vote for independence in South Sudan's referendum could help unify the South Sudanese as they begin the process of nation building.

Nasser Nasser/AP
A polling staff member opens a ballot box at the end of a weeklong voting process, at a polling center in Um Durman, Sudan on Jan. 15, 2011. Voters in Southern Sudan began celebrating after the end of a weeklong independence referendum Saturday, a poll that is widely expected to lead to the creation of the world's newest country.

In the time I’ve been reading about Sudan’s referendum on Southern secession, I have never seen anyone predict that the South would vote for continued unity with the North. In other words, it is no surprise that now the referendum has ended, polling and provisional results are showing a landslide vote for independence. Still, it is useful to look at the early figures: one thing they reveal is a relatively uniform distribution of support for independence across the South.

Reuters asked for estimated figures from Southern Sudanese officials (see a slightly different version here), and received responses in almost all of the South’s ten states. Estimates topped 80 percent in Unity (also known as Western Upper Nile), 90 percent in Central Equatoria (where Juba is located), and 95 percent in Western Bahr al-Ghazal. The estimated tally (sometimes based on incomplete results) approached 99 percent in Upper Nile, Northern Bahr al-Ghazal, Warrap, Jonglei, Eastern Equatoria, and Lakes. Reuters did not obtain results from Western Equatoria.

VOA reports some official provisional results that are in line with the estimates above: 97.5 percent of voters in Juba opted for independence, and the pro-secession vote exceeded 90 percent in Unity, Lakes, and Western Bahr al-Ghazal.

Looking at the results state by state, I was prepared to note variations, but the differences seem to be minor. Border states seem to be voting for independence at essentially the same rates as the other states. Reuters’ poll put Unity (a border state) slightly lower than others, but the official results have Unity’s total at over 90 percent, and other border states (Western Bahr al-Ghazal, Northern Bahr al-Ghazal, Warrap, and Upper Nile) in the same range. Check out this map of South Sudan for better visualization.

All this says to me that South Sudan will enter into independent nationhood possessing a broad consensus about its political destiny: across the South, almost everyone wants independence. It is possible that the expectation of a pro-secession landslide depressed voter turnout among proponents of unity to some extent, but could this effect have been large enough to substantially affect the figures? My sense is no, and most observers have said the vote was credible, so it does not seem that fraud or intimidation seriously warped the figures either. The Southern Sudanese have a hard road ahead of them, but it appears that almost all of them want to walk it together.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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