Yemen elections: Only one choice, but is it still progress?
Yemen heads to the polls Tuesday to choose a replacement to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. President Obama has endorsed the one man on the ballot, Mr. Saleh's vice president.
Tomorrow Yemenis will go to the polls to officially bring to a close more than three decades of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule.Skip to next paragraph
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The moment may be one of unprecedented change for Yemen, but it leaves something to be desired as a beacon of democracy. In this election, voters will enter the polling both to find a ballot with only one candidate – Mr. Saleh’s Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi – accompanied by a graphic of the map of Yemen and the national flag.
Among many international observers and Yemenis, though, the uncontested election is not seen as problematic, but a necessary step to peacefully remove Saleh and begin the transition process. Yemeni participation in the election and the government’s ability to provide security tomorrow will also likely serve as a bellwether of the challenges that lay ahead for the nation, one central to the ongoing fight against Al Qaeda.
“This election on the 21st of February isn’t the end all, be all. It’s one part of a much longer-term process and I think that’s the context people need to look at it with,” says Grant Kippen, chief of party for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. “This is a great opportunity when there’s not the competitiveness that’s usually associated with elections to actually sit down and work through the processes, the procedures, and then going forward when the referendum happens in the following elections to really have solid, well-known procedures in place.”
Saleh agreed to step down after the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered an agreement in November. As part of the deal, Yemenis will redraft their constitution and have a referendum to prepare for competitive elections in two years time.
Is it really an election?
Still, even among those who supported the GCC agreement, there is some frustration that elections are being used to hand power to Mr. Hadi.
Hassan Zaid was among the signatories of the agreement and supports Hadi as the new president of Yemen, but he says using an election to grant him power risks leaving Yemenis disenchanted with the election process.
“If they say it is a kind of rally to support this GCC agreement, a lot of people would support this, but don’t tell people that it’s an election,” says Mr. Hassan, secretary general for the opposition’s Haq Party. “What’s happening now is a violation of our constitutional legitimacy and ridiculing the election process.”
Despite his dissatisfaction, Hassan says he will still vote and show his support for Hadi.