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South Sudan: No Census Before June Election

Men carry ballot boxes after elections in South Sudan in 2011.
Men carry ballot boxes after elections in South Sudan in 2011.

South Sudan's National Statistics Bureau says it will not be able to hold a census before general elections in June, even though the country's transitional constitution calls for a population head-count before the polls.

National Statistics Bureau Chairman Isaiah Chol Aruai said the year-old crisis in South Sudan has prevented the bureau from collecting census data. South Sudan's constitution says those data are needed to determine, among other things, "...the number of electoral constituencies for the next general elections."

Aruai said the bureau’s failure to hold a census ahead of the elections should not stop the polls from taking place.

"Under normal situation, the census was supposed to precede the election, but that was when there was no political crisis in the country," he said.

"As we speak, the context has changed. It looks like the elections will have to stand alone. They should not be contingent on the conduct of a census," he said.

President Salva Kiir’s administration announced last month that it has approved a budget of $517 million for elections in which South Sudanese will elect a president, lawmakers and state governors. A week later, the National Elections Commission said the polls will be held on June 30.

Opposition politicians, civil society groups and refugees in Uganda have spoken out against holding elections while the country is still in crisis. Some have noted that the transitional constitution requires that a census be held before elections are organized.

Use 2008 census data

But Beny Gideon Mabor, a civil society activist, said that, as controversial as the elections may be, they can be held on June 30th, with or without new census data. Mabor works with the South Sudan Law Society and has been a representative of South Sudan civil society groups at peace talks in Addis Ababa.

To hold a vote, he said population data from a census conducted in 2008 -- before South Sudan was an independent nation -- could be used.

The 2008 census was conducted by the Sudanese government before the historic 2011 referendum that created South Sudan. The results estimated the population of southern Sudan at around eight million. The authorities in the southern region rejected the census results. They said they disagreed with the population estimate and claimed many anomalies in the manner in which the process was conducted.

South Sudan’s constitution does not stipulate that elections have to be held this year but the document does say that President Kiir’s tenure will end on July 9 of this year.