December 22, 2009 (KHARTOUM) — Leaders from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) along with other South Sudan political parties walked out of the National Assembly in protest of a new amendment introduced to South Sudan referendum bill.
The two chambers of the Sudanese parliament endorsed today the southern Sudan referendum bill which outlines the framework to hold this crucial popular consultation in January 2011. The law says that no less than 60% of the legible registered persons should participate in the voting and that the choice that gains 50 plus one shall be the winning option.
National Congress Party (NCP) parliamentarians modified the bill after it was agreed on in the Council of Ministers and also in the Presidency. The approved bill cancelled an article stipulating that southerners who reside outside the region will have to register and vote only in South Sudan. The chairman of referendum sub-committee Badriya Suleiman said this article violates the interim constitution particularly the article related to freedom of movement.
Speaking to press in front of the National Assembly building, Atem Garang Deputy Speaker on SPLM criticized the move describing the passage as "ill and deliberate".
"All the legal procedures were not strictly followed and violate number of governing rules for business and conducts of the house," he said. "The essence of bringing it here in reference to the bill and assembly was for approval not to delete and insert,” Atem further said.
He pointed out that because they did not want rush passing based on numerical majority, the SPLM parliamentary bloc in the Assembly in an agreement with other Political parties, requested more deliberations and consultations before passing it into law.
"This was why the Tuesday session was dedicated to reading and passing of the Referendum for self determination of southern people," he adds.
Ms. Badriya Suleiman said Mr. Justin Joseph Maruna, SPLM co-chairman of the referendum subcommittee, had participated in the deliberations and preparation of the report and agreed to cancel this item, but latter he denied what he had agreed.
Similarly, Yasir Arman, who heads SPLM parliamentary bloc, protested amendments to the draft bill giving rights to all south Sudanese in both south and the north to vote during the referendum process.
He said this new amendment violates CPA and that the SPLM parliamentarians in the Assembly may consider suspending their participations till differences over passed bill are settled.
"What happened today shows clearest and worst violation ever made against CPA," he said.
"They amended [Article 27-3] by saying that if you are a Northern Sudanese and you are not in Southern Sudan, you can vote wherever you are. But we are saying no, according to what we had agreed upon, if you are Northern Sudanese and your heritage is from the South you need to come to Southern Sudan to prove it and then you will vote," said Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, a Government of Southern Sudan diplomat and member of the SPLM National Liberation Council.
Another objectionable item was also introduced, according to Gatkuoth. Article 67 addresses post-2011 arrangements. "Basically we had agreed to discuss the post-2011 arrangements but it has no link with the law. They re-introduced it and they are saying that if we have no agreement on the post-2011 arrangement – no referendum, basically".
Many observers say faces began to grow angrier in parliament today as the discussions got off to a weaker start than previously thought. But all signs suggest that one of the two peace partners, possibly SPLM, is likely to concede to end the year on stronger footing.
However, it’s unclear how the SPLM will compromise once the government refuses to put in place alternatives. Gatkuoth commented of the law, "we are condemning it, we are not accepting it, and we will continue to attack it".
"It is a known behavior of the NCP to agree and renege," he said. "They always respond to pressure. They will never agree on niceties. They are people who are used to problems. When there are no problems, they will never deliver."
With SPLM and other Southern Politicians pushing against allowing participation of south Sudanese abroad to vote, NCP members including Speaker Ibrahim El-Tahir have wholeheartedly welcomed the passing and gave thanks to CPA signatories.
In the news conference, the Speaker said, we have finally passed what he termed as the most tedious and tiresome referendum law. It is adopted, he added.