Sudan parliament adopts Abyei referendum law
But the law angered MPs from the Messiria tribe who walked out of parliament just as the vote began because they wanted tribe members, considered partisans of the Khartoum government, to be explicitly included in the text of the law.
“The agreement to approve this law is a plot against the Messiria,” tribal MP Mohammed Abdallah Adam said.
“All Sudanese living in the region must be able to vote during the referendum, without differences being made between tribes,” added MP Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed.
On Tuesday, parliament adopted key legislation setting up the planned 2011 referendum on southern independence after northern and southern leaders overcame a dispute that had threatened the country’s peace deal.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has said in July that the entire population of Abyei should take part in the 2011 referendum, but southern leaders insisted that only the Ngok Dinka should be allowed to vote.
Majority Muslim north Sudan and the mainly Christian south fought a devastating 22-year civil war, which ended with the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The new version of the law adopted by parliament on Tuesday includes a contested provision demanded by southern politicians that requires Diaspora southerners to cast their ballots in the south at the referendum promised for 2011.
Southern parliamentarians had insisted on that provision, fearful that if large numbers of southerners voted in the north, there could be fraud and pressure by the Khartoum government.
The new article states that south Sudanese living outside the south and born before January 1, 1956, the date of Sudan’s independence, must vote in the south.
But south Sudanese living outside the south and born after January 1, 1956 would be able to vote in their place of residence, whether in the north or abroad.
There are about 520,000 south Sudanese – mostly Christian – living in the Muslim north, according to a northern government census. The southern government says the figure is much higher.
The ruling northern National Congress Party (NCP) had deleted the provision in a previous version of the law adopted last week, allowing for absentee votes.
It said the article “violated the interim constitution which gives every Sudanese freedom of movement from one region to another.”
But the move had prompted a walkout from parliament by MPs from the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in the south, and other southern parties.
“Tuesday’s amendment has been introduced only to give our southern Sudanese brothers more impetus to vote for the unity of Sudan during the referendum,” said Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior official with the NCP.
“It’s a new day for the establishment of trust. The people of the south deserve the right to a referendum and more besides,” said SPLM deputy secretary general Yasser Arman.
The United States had said it was “deeply concerned” that the earlier text had been stripped of the wording previously agreed with southern politicians.
The new legislation had taken several months of negotiations to formulate.
Under its terms, south Sudan’s independence would be recognised if it is approved by 51 percent of voters at a referendum with a turnout of at least 60 percent.
The NCP and SPLM, former enemies that now form a government of national unity, had previously pledged to make the unity of Sudan “attractive” to the population.
But calls for independence have increased among southern politicians, who accuse Khartoum of supporting tribal violence in the south.
The promised independence vote is a key plank of the deal, which also provides for a general election to be held in 2010. Many in south Sudan are hoping the referendum will grant them independence and want to claim as large an area of the oil-rich Abyei region as possible for the south.
Abyei’s population consists mainly of Ngok Dinka tribes, seen as loyal to the south, and Messiriya Arab nomads considered supporters of Khartoum.