Inside an observation mission
There are only 2 days of voting left (assuming that the Referendum Commission doesn’t extend voting). Several observation teams are discussing preliminary statements, including the Carter Center and the EU. We are, as well. What to put in a statement is a difficult decision when voting is not complete, but there is enormous expectation, and the Government in Khartoum seems to be playing games with the figures, and people’s lives. Apparently they are claiming that turnout is low. It is not, but even as late as yesterday we heard reports that the Government of Sudan was claiming that voter turnout was below 20%.
There have already been skirmishes and killings along the border region, probably encouraged by the worst elements of the NCP, the ruling party in the North. So, while the referendum results are important, saying something that may help curtail present and future violence is also key. What to do and say?
Several of our team want to release an early sample of the numbers. For example, we could release the figures of registered voters who have cast the ballots so far. There is a stipulation in the referendum agreement that at least 60% registered voters must vote in order for the result to be considered valid (50% + 1 of these voters are required for a result.) The Government of Southern Sudan (led by the SPLM) has already claimed that turnout has surpassed the 60% threshold, but obviously they aren’t neutral. If the observers release our numbers, we may begin to quell some anxiety.
Conversely, releasing our numbers prematurely may be seen as trying to influence the process. It’s the same problem we face in Canada about releasing numbers before some people have cast their ballots. It’s not that we would release figures related to people’s preferences, but, given the 60% requirement, even releasing the turnout numbers could be perceived as intervening in the process, something we are prohibited from doing.
These are the (seemingly mundane) issues that election/referendum observation missions deal with, but our decisions are important. I’m my mind, if we can save lives in the border region, we should do what we can. If releasing turnout numbers helps quell some fears, we should do it. It’s not a universally held position.