The people of South Sudan moved a step closer to democracy this month as voter turnout in the region's independence referendum passed the important 60 percent threshold needed for the results to be binding. Although the final results probably won't be known until early February, the process has shown that Sudan's leaders in both the North and South are taking seriously their responsibilities under the 2005 peace accord and that further progress in the troubled region is possible.
Voter turnout in the South was very high, many Sudanese expatriates cast ballots in overseas voting centers, and South Sudanese in the North reported no problems in having their voices heard there. Under the rules of the poll, a majority of voters must choose separation in order for southern Sudan to become an independent country, and 60 percent of registered voters must take part. Independent observers say that based on their monitoring, the vote will likely meet international standards for being free and fair.
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the United States hopes that the parties will continue to channel the same spirit of cooperation that made the referendum possible as they work to reach agreement on arrangements that will define their future relationship. Much work remains, and post-referendum issues should be resolved by July 2011.
These issues include agreeing on a way forward for the Abyei region, resource sharing, demarcating a common border, and establishing criteria for citizenship, among others. If each side lives up to its commitments, the United States has pledged its sustained partnership to both North and South.