However, the process did begin without controversies following an initial announcement by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the South Sudan Referendum Commission that there were going to be only three centres, one in the federal capital Canberra and two sub-centers in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively. This meant that out of six states and two territories of Australia, four states and one territory were absolutely excluded despite their geographical and logistical barriers.
It was a pill too bitter for many to swallow, particularly in Western Australia, the state furthest from the rest of states and territories.
South Sudanese in Western Australia who are among the most active and well-organised and less tribally or politically polarised in Australia were up in arms. Luckily, their complaints and supplementing complaints from patriotic counter-parts in other states reached the ears of the IOM, which sent a representative to meet the community in Perth.
Gurtong witnessed a stormy but peaceful and constructive meeting where emotions ran high but within the framework of civilised arguments. They argued that the distance from the allocated centers meant they could not all make it forth and back, even if they were willing to do so; not everyone could do so at least and only very few could manage going for registration and then back again later for voting given the financial implications. They therefore called for registration and voting for all in Australia in their own backyards.
As the murmuring grew, many questions were being asked as to what direction the Government of Southern Sudan wanted to advise the people here to take; many were and still are not sure whether even casting their votes in the Diaspora will be a wise thing to do in the first place.
This is in the background of circulating doubt fuelled by some unsubstantiated rumors that some people in the Diaspora may be on the payroll of the NCP or that the votes may be tempered with once cast.
However, a recommendation letter to IOM, written on behalf of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) by the Minister for Regional Cooperation Deng Alor Kuol, which Gurtong has seen, seems to endorse the voting in Australia.
It was addressed to the head of IOM in Australia Michael Clancy and copied to the GOSS representative Mariano Ngor.
“I would like to reiterate the commitment of my government to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the holding of the referendum on time on January 9, 2011”, said the Minister in his letter. “It is also the commitment of my government to do on its part all that is necessary, to ensure the holding of a credible, free and fair referendum”, he added.
For the people in Perth, the following statement by the Minister was noted with special delight and it reassured them that their government in South Sudan is aware of them and their patriotic efforts:
“In this connection, I would like to request your office to relocate the polling station during the referendum registration from Canberra to Perth as there are few South Sudanese community members in Canberra who can move to Sydney for registration, and they have accepted the approval of Victoria and Sydney as the polling stations”, said the Minister.
The Minister’s letter came at a time when the excluded communities have asked the federal government through their local representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives, to ensure equal opportunities to all South Sudanese in Australia lest the exercise does not take place as it would be a sham.
The representative of the South Sudan Referendum Commission in Australia David Gatwech is said to have also recommended the opening of additional sub-centers in Brisbane and Perth due to the two states’ geographical vastness and distance from the areas where the initial polling stations had been opened.
Following the request, additional sub-centers were opened in Perth and Brisbane on Friday and the new move was immediately confirmed by both Michael Clancy of the IOM and David Gatwech in a brief telephone discussion with the Gurtong Correspondent.
For many South Sudanese people in Perth and in Brisbane, it is better late than never. People are excited about the opportunity to participate in the historic vote; a mere family welcoming function in Perth on Saturday was turned into an SPLA song and dance.
Already, Southerners are reminding themselves of their collective suffering and words of eternal curses are being put out there for potential traitors among them. South Sudanese Diaspora in general and those in Australia in particular have never been so anxious and at the same time more optimistic; indeed it is the long awaited moment of truth and judgment which is just around the corner for South Sudanese.
Training of the Identifiers and registration staff is set to begin on Wednesday through to Thursday this week.
Both David Gatwech and Michael Clancy will fly in before then and hold consultative meetings with community leaders and intellectuals.
However, Brisbane and Perth will be behind schedule in terms of meeting the initial registration dateline as they are only expected to start registering people from Friday through to next week.
Those in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney have already been registering in the last couple of days. It is understood that the additional sub-centers in Brisbane and Perth will be given ten days to complete their registration of eligible voters; there is no doubt the two cities will be a bee hive of activities during the given time frame, in the race against time.