National ID card issue hangs over planned South Sudanese elections

Juba, South Sudan — Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudanese residents have been working to build their country, the world’s youngest nation.

However, many citizens fear a technicality — the lack of a required National Identification Card — may block them from participating in the country’s first planned democratic elections in December.

Registration for the polls begins in less than two months.

“I don’t think they will allow those without an ID to vote,” said a young man, who asked to be identified only as Alex for safety reasons.

Alex, who is a resident of Magwi in the state of Eastern Equatoria, told VOA he has made repeated trips to the immigration offices in the capital, Juba, to get a National Identification Card.

After three failed attempts, Alex became worried he would be locked out of the upcoming election.

“The first challenge I face is the distance,” he said. “Secondly is the finance, because traveling from this end to Juba is a bit costly.”

Leaders will identify voters

Ter Manyang Gatwech, the executive director of the Center for Peace in Juba, said getting an ID card should be a routine matter.

“Every citizen should have access to a national ID,” said Gatwech. “This is a concern because getting an ID in this country is quite expensive. For you to vote, you must have ID.”

Gatwech said the government should give citizens national IDs free of charge.

But South Sudan has no plans to issue ID cards to everyone. A spokesperson for the country’s elections commission, George Lemi, said that during voter registration, the commission may hire local administrators to confirm people’s identities.

“To be eligible to vote, you must be 18 years and above,” said Lemi. “You must be a national — which is having a national ID or passport.”

Lemi said that if one doesn’t have an ID card and is South Sudanese, local leaders can “come and prove and identify you, to give you [a] way or to approve you.”

Elections set for December

South Sudan’s elections were originally scheduled for 2015, four years after it separated from Sudan. However, the country’s civil war and delay in creating a constitution forced the election to be deferred several times.

Now, according to the South Sudan 2023 National Elections Act, voter registration will begin six months before elections, in June.

The elections are scheduled for December 22. For the first time, South Sudanese will get the chance to vote for a president, members of parliament, and several state and local offices.

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