Khartoum — The Darfur Referendum Commission has set 11-13 April as the date for the referendum on the administrative status of Darfur.
In a press conference at the premises of the Sudan News Agency (Suna) in Khartoum on Tuesday, the Commission announced that the registration process will take place in the western region between 8 February and 20 March.
Omar Ali Jamaa, the chairman of the Commission, said that the people living in all five Darfur states will be able to define the permanent administrative status of the region between 11-13 April, by opting for the current status of five states or for a return of Darfur as one large state or province.
He pointed out that the ballot papers look "very simple". The option for five states is symbolised by five traditional room huts and the other option is represented by one room hut.
"The result of the referendum is based on a minimum of fifty percent plus one," he stated. "It will be incorporated in the Constitution."
Referendum Registry Officer Adam Daleel Adam added that the voting is a right associated with residence in the region. Darfuri refugees and migrants living abroad are excluded.
"The referendum process is different from elections as it is related to the provision of services and development objectives targeting the Sudanese within the borders of Darfur," he explained.
The referendum will be held in all 63 Darfur localities. About 1,400 registration and polling centres will be established to "provide adequate opportunity for the participation of the largest number of people possible".
The Darfur referendum is stipulated in the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) that was signed in July 2011 by the Sudanese government and the Liberation and Justice Movement, a coalition of 19 breakaway factions of the Darfur rebel movements formed the year before.
The referendum was supposed to be held within one year after the signing of the peace accord. Last October, President Omar Al Bashir announced that the referendum will take place in April 2016.
For the Darfuris themselves, the administrative status is not their main concern. "What the people in Darfur want most is not a referendum but their being able to lead a decent and secure life in their villages of origin," a Darfuri human rights lawyer told Radio Dabanga in October.
"The Doha Document prioritises the restoration of the security situation, through the implementation of the security arrangements and the disarmament of the non-military in the region. Yet, the disarmament has never taken place," he said.
Omar Gamaruldin, policy coordinator of the USA activist Enough think-tank said in an interview with Radio Dabanga in November that the Khartoum regime is using the referendum as a pressure card to tell the people of Darfur that they do whatever they want to.
The referendum should be preceded by the realisation of a conducive environment and other measures for the establishment of a genuine dialogue, he added.
National Dialogue members
The National Dialogue's Peace and Unity Committee also expressed their doubts about holding the referendum at this time. The members recommended the Presidency last November to postpone the referendum until "peace, unity, and national reconciliation have been realised".
The Popular Congress Party (PCP), one of the opposition parties that participates in the National Dialogue, has warned that a referendum in April will "complicate and aggravate the situation in the region more than ever before".
PCP leader Ali Shamar Shamar wondered how a referendum could take place while half of all Darfuris are either displaced or refugees, and many other items of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) have not been implemented yet.
The Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice, led by Taher Hajar, that recently joined the National Dialogue also objects to holding the Darfur referendum in April.
"The climate for a referendum is not appropriate at all, while there are more than millions of Darfuris living in camps for the displaced, and people are still daily subjected to assaults, murders and rapes," Hajar told Radio Dabanga in October.
He wondered why a referendum is to be held "when before it was the presidency that decided to divide Darfur into three, and later five states".
According to the rebel leader, the pros and cons of a federal system for Sudan and its implementation should be discussed and decided upon in a broad national dialogue.