Turnout for Yemen’s first presidential election in six years was as high as 80 per cent in some parts of the country, according to government officials.
Up to 10 million Yemenis were registered to vote in the 21 February election in which only one candidate, former vice-president Abdrabbu Mansour al-Hadi, stood. A lack of opposition candidates meant that government officials had only statistics to turn to as a sign of the poll’s legitimacy.
Al-Hadi has been leader-in-waiting since his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a GCC-brokered transition deal in November 2011. A key component of the agreement was a clause, which called for members of both Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and the opposition National Council, led by the GPC’s main competitor, the Joint Meeting Parties (JPC), to vote for Al-Hadi.
Voters on the streets of Sanaa were broadly positive about the election, if only because it ended Saleh’s rule after more than three decades at the top. “This is not democracy because it is only one person,” said Abdilaziz, a young Yemeni, after voting in the Sawan district of Sanaa. “But it is good because it is a change and it means an end to Saleh.”
The poll marks the fourth time in little over a year that popular protests have led to the exit of an Arab leader. Opposition to Saleh’s rule boiled over in 2011 when growing numbers of protesters took to the streets bemoaning widespread corruption, a lack of economic development and clamps on personal freedoms. They were spurred on by similar movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Al-Hadi now faces the stern task of creating a consensus National Dialogue council, which is to involve southern secessionists and members of the northern dissident Houthi movement. Violence broke out across the formerly independent south on election day, while the Houthis led a boycott of the poll.