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Twelve votes each

Driving from Juba north to Mvolo to see some of Save the Children’s health work, on what’s been described to me as the ‘highway’ – in  fact,  a good, red dust road..rocky in bits, but a huge improvement on the one before.

Before the North-South peace agreement, my colleague Antony tells me that it used to take three weeks to do a journey which today will take six hours. Wearying in the heat – but not impossible.

In one of the villages we pass through, there is a small group seated in plastic chairs under a spreading mango tree, listening intently to a woman official.  It’s not electioneering – but voter education, I’m told.

Later, chatting around dinner at the Save the Children guest house, I understand why such sessions are needed, every voter in the South has no less than twelve separate votes to make during the poll. I’m pretty incredulous when told that – twelve?

We start to try to add them up, but once we have got past presidential (national), presidential (in the south), MPs (national), MPs (in the south),  state governors, state assemblies, we begin to lose track. It’s an awful lot of voting though – especially in a place where the vast majority of the population has never voted before.

We figure out that only someone living in Mvolo area over the age of 50 would have voted before – no-one sitting around me has ever taken part in an election.

I can’t help but compare it to the UK election, which was also called today…in the five week electioneering jamboree, it’ll be difficult to ignore the politicians out touting for votes. Here in South Sudan, it’s not a question of ‘getting out the vote’, but getting to the vote in this vast country.

And yet, despite, the complexities of the poll being organised in a country which is mostly inaccessible by road, and ballot boxes are being dropped off by UN helicopters, everyone I meet is planning to vote, taking days off work to travel to their home regions, where they have registered.

There is a genuine sense of  quiet anticipation  – a recognition that this election is an important milestone on the way to an enduring peace.

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