Sudanese across Africa's largest country filed into polling stations Sunday to cast their votes for Sudan's first competitive elections in nearly a quarter century.
Despite partial boycotts by the opposition and calls to delay the vote, voting went forward as scheduled and will run through Tuesday to kick-start a democratic transformation in the war-plagued nation and provide a democratically elected government to prepare for a crucial southern referendum next year.
Five years ago, government officials in North Sudan and rebel leaders in South Sudan signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to end more than two decades of civil war.
Under the terms of the 2005 agreement, a government of national unity was to be formed for a transitional period of six years. During this time, the South would be autonomous, and at the end of the six-year period a referendum would be held on the issue of a unified Sudan or secession of the South.
Though the agreement brought an end to more than 21 years of civil war, which was sparked by a government effort to impose Islamic law on the mostly Christian south in 1983, both the government and the rebels of the South were allowed to maintain their armies, keeping open the option to return to war.
As the elections are crucial to the fulfillment of the CPA, church leaders from across Sudan are calling on Christians throughout the world to pray for the elections, the lead-up to which has been marred by allegations of vote rigging by the Northern Government and continued unrest in the Sudan's Darfur region.
"As Church Leaders in the South, we are calling on evangelicals throughout the world to commit to praying for our nation," expressed Bishop Elias Taban, president of Sudan Evangelical Alliance (SEA), in a statement released through the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
"We have spent many years fighting for our right to freedom of worship and to protect us from the spread of Islam and now we need the prayers of the world to help us in these elections," he added.
Elias, who was born when war first broke out in Sudan in 1955, said he has known war all of his life and that he and others in the South are tired of it.
But he said the people of the South value freedom greater than peace and said there is a willingness to secure that freedom, even if it means returning to war.
"We have been telling our people that prayer needs to be our weapon but we also need the prayers of those around the world to help us win this battle," he stated.
Southern Sudan is expected to vote in an independence referendum in January 2011 and many analysts expect the South to vote to secede.
Salva Kiir, President of Southern Sudan, recently announced that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has led the fight for freedom since 1955, is in favor of an independent Sudan.
Christians in the South say they took up arms to protect their freedom to worship and to ensure they protect their identity as African Christians in the midst of attempts to impose an Islamic regime in the South by the Northern Government.
The fighting between the mainly Muslim north and the majority Christian and animist south and has left some 1.5 million Sudanese killed and more than 4 million displaced.