Yemeni elections ‘no more than a game of musical chairs’

A demonstration against Yemen's presidential elections in the Southern port city of Aden on Monday, February 20. The protest sign reads, "By participating in these official elections, you keep the corrupt in place, bury the revolution alive and kill its youth".
 
Responding to calls to “save” their country, Yemenis voted Tuesday in an election aimed at ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33 years in power. The historic event was marked, however, by the fact voters had only one candidate on the ballot– Saleh’s vice president. While the lack of choice outraged some members of the opposition, others saw it as the only shot at turning the page after nearly a year of unrest.
 
Following Tuesday’s election, Yemen’s vice president is expected to take over the reigns of the country for the next two years as part of a power transfer deal ending Saleh’s autocratic rule. Despite the fact that a number of candidates declared their intentions to run for the presidency, only Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was approved.
 
The terms of Tuesday’s vote were decided on November 23, 2011 after Saleh signed a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered power transfer deal in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. The agreement, which was also signed by the Joint Meeting Party, an umbrella opposition group, negotiated that Saleh and his family (a number of whom hold key military posts) step down under the condition that none of them face trial.
 
In Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, Tuesday’s ballot was marred by violence. Armed men laid siege to polling stations and sporadic gunfire could be heard in the city. In the days leading up to the elections, Aden was also the site of a number of anti-vote protests which were swiftly stamped out by security forces. Aden is the heartland of the Southern movement, which has been fighting for independence from the North since the country was united in 1990. Many southerners in the post-British colonial port city are opposed to what they see as the dominance of the northerners in Yemen’s administration and military. The Southern movement called for a boycott of Tuesday’s vote.
 
Demonstration against Yemen's presidential elections in Aden on Monday, February 20. Video posted on YouTube by  AhmedSaif1961.

"The elections only represent a small percentage of Yemenis”

Mariam Hussein Aboubaker al-Attaf teaches at a high school in the western port city of Al- Hodeida. She is a member of a fringe opposition group that rejected the GCC brokered power sharing deal.
 
I am choosing not to vote in Tuesday’s elections because in my opinion, it is not a democratic process. What is democratic about voting for a single candidate? We independent opposition members [opposition members not belonging to the Joint Meeting Party], aren’t the only ones who believe the elections are a masquerade. The Houthis [Shiite rebels in northwestern Yemen] have also condemned it, as have the separatists in the south [based in Aden, the southern independence movement has called for a boycott of the vote, and declared Tuesday a “day of disobedience”].
 
The elections only represent a small percentage of Yemenis. Saleh’s General People’s Congress and the Joint Meeting Party are the only factions represented, in other words the two parties already in power. All other political groups have been excluded.
 
It’s a game of musical chairs – we are trading Saleh for his Vice President Mansour, but the system remains intact. We didn’t protest in the streets for this. We wanted a real change.
 
The elections took place in part because of United States and Saudi pressure [the US and Saudi Arabia helped to mediate the power transfer deal signed in Riyadh], which is unacceptable. We are planning to organise a march from Al-Hodeida to the Saudi border on February 25 to protest against Saudi Arabia’s policy regarding Yemen”.

“These elections are a chance to turn the page on all the violence we have known”

Ahmed Abbas Al Bacha participated in opposition protests in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz. Al Bacha initially disagreed with last November’s power transfer deal, but on Tuesday he served as an election observer to ensure that the vote went smoothly.
 
I went to the polling station in Taiz on Tuesday morning to receive instructions on proper election protocol. As I was leaving, I saw a small demonstration of around 100 people or so protesting against the ballot. I also saw a number of residents go out very early in the morning to wait in line to vote.
 
It’s true that these elections seem more like a referendum because there is only one candidate. It is also true that the vote violates the constitution, which dictates that a presidential election has a minimum of two candidates. But I feel that the very unique situation we find ourselves in today justifies this exception.
 
What’s most important is to get out of this crisis and to turn the page on the bloodshed and violence we’ve seen up until now. Even though a few months ago I was against the power transfer deal, I now realise that there is no other way to move forward, and that even half of a solution is better than no solution at all. I hope Yemenis went out to vote on Tuesday, because it’s crucial to making sure that the transition takes place as smoothly as possible. Otherwise, we may have missed yet another chance to bring about serious change in our country.
 
It’s true that a number of Saleh’s family and allies are still in power, particularly in the Defence department. But we’re counting on the new president to carry out all the terms of the power transfer deal, which stipulate that Saleh’s relatives must step down. We are also counting on former military deserters who have returned to the armed forces to help drive institutional reforms”.
 
An protester injured in Aden on February 21.
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