Yemenis Vote Saleh Out of Power
February 27, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On February 21, Yemenis went to the polls to vote for a new president, formally ending the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was the only candidate on the ballot. Yahya al-Qadhi, a shopkeeper told the New York Times, “It’s fine that only Abed Rabbo is on the ballot. If there was more than one candidate, then they would start killing each other and we are sick of the killing.” Although the election was not an ideal exercise in democracy, people were enthusiastic about taking part in the first step towards transition away from the old government.
CNN reported the findings of the elections committee, which revealed that Hadi received 99.8 percent the overall vote. On February 27, he and former president Saleh participated in a formal handover of power ceremony. An election security committee official estimated that 80 percent of eligible voters turned out for the election. Observers reported seeing large numbers of women at the polls. Reuters stressed the importance of a high voter turnout in securing legitimacy for Hadi, who will need a mandate from the people to carry out the power transfer deal brokered by the other Arab Gulf states and backed by the United States. Over the next two years, the Yemeni government will need to draft a new constitution, restructure the armed forces and hold multi-party elections.
Reuters reported that although the lines in the capital, Sana, were especially long, turnout was likely lower in the south, where separatists and opposition members had called for a boycott of the vote. Hours before polling stations opened in Aden, a number of explosions went off around the city in order to disrupt voting. Approximately half of the polling stations were shut down for security reasons. The BBC reported that at least eight soldiers were killed, including four killed by a gunman at a polling station in the Hadramawt province. The separatist Southern Movement dubbed the day, a day of “civil disobedience” and Shia Houthi rebels from the North also attempted to boycott the vote.
An important aspect of the ongoing transition will be restructuring the army and security forces. According to the New York Times, a high-ranking Yemeni who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the United States will play a leading role in reforming the armed forces. John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser has already spoken about upcoming American visits and offering assistance to forces commanded by individuals who “are going to be professional and direct their forces appropriately.” Reforming the armed forces will be extremely difficult.
A BBC reporter asked Brigadier General Yahia Saleh, the former president’s nephew, if he would be stepping down from his post soon. Most Yemenis believe that he and other relatives of President Saleh who were given positions are not qualified to lead. The Brigadier General answered, “Why would I? Is there a reason or us to leave?” The army is still divided between the opposition and Saleh loyalists. One of the leaders of opposition military units, Major General Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, promised several times in public statements that he would leave Yemen after President Saleh agreed to step down, but he has failed to do so. Al-Ahmar’s troops are still deployed in the northwestern section of Sana and Brennan believes that there is tension “simmering beneath the surface.” For now, the streets of the capital have been reopened for traffic after months of being intermittently closed due to street clashes between loyalist and opposition soldiers.
For previous news on Yemen, please see:
Yemen's Stalemate; Scholars Discuss Current Situation at GWU
CNN - Ex-President Saleh to leave Yemen after handover, officials say
The New York Times - Yemen Votes to Formally Remove President
BBC - Yemen's new president faces multiple challenges
BBC - Yemen violence mars poll to replace Ali Abdullah Saleh
Reuters - Yemen election ensures Saleh's exit after 33 years