Yemen marks a new era with vote for first new President in two decades


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yemenis will vote today to elect a new president. And for the first time since the nation's unification in 1990, the name of Ali Abdullah Saleh, against whom vast numbers of the population have fought a bloody 12-month battle to oust, will not appear on the ballot paper.

The pre-election period has been marred by a series of attacks against polling stations across the south, including the former capital, the strategic port city of Aden. Yesterday afternoon, an explosion ripped through a polling centre in the city's Mansoura district.

The uncontested vote, which follows months of anti-government demonstrations and factional clashes, will see the veteran leader replaced by his deputy, Vice-President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who will lead Yemen for an abbreviated two-year term.

Mr Hadi has served as Yemen's acting President since Mr Saleh agreed to leave power in November after a Western-backed, Gulf Co-operation Council-brokered power-transfer deal after months of equivocation.

On the eve of today's vote – a mere formality, since the Vice-President is the only candidate – Western and Yemeni leaders have stressed their faith in Mr Hadi while hailing what they've characterised as a model, peaceful transition of power.

The US head of counter-terrorism, John Brennan, who is visiting the country, has stressed the international community's support for Mr Hadi. Many in the West have expressed fear that the increasing power vacuum would work to empower Yemen-based militants, which include al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is widely seen as one of the most dangerous and determined franchises of the global terror network.

Mr Brennan stressed that the US has full faith in Mr Hadi's ability to build a meaningful relationship with the international community in the fight against al-Qa'ida. Mr Hadi "is committed to destroying al-Qa'ida and I consider him a good and strong counter-terrorism partner", Mr Brennan said.

In the run-up to the elections, Sanaa – the scene of fierce street battles mere months ago – has remained calm, giving a lie to the state of the rest of the country. Yemen remains unsettled and many factions in the nation have announced calls to boycott the coming elections.

The Houthis, a Shia militant group that controls much of the far north, has condemned the elections and called on their supporters to abstain. And the Southern Movement, a loosely linked grouping of secessionists, has rejected the poll as well, complaining that its opinions have been ignored.