Yemen Counts Votes in 1-Candidate Election to Confirm Hadi as Leader

Posted February 21st, 2012 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Yemen has begun counting votes from a one-candidate election designed to confirm Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as the country's new leader after a year-long uprising against autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemeni authorities said Tuesday's turnout was high in the capital Sana'a and several other cities, where voters expressed hope that the pre-determined election of Hadi as president will bring stability to the impoverished Arab state.

But, voting was cut short by several hours in the southern port of Aden after separatists boycotting the election seized ballot boxes and exchanged fire with security forces. Medics said nine people including a child were killed in vote-related violence in the south, home to a long-running separatist movement. In the Shi'ite rebel strongholds of far northern Yemen, many polling stations were either deserted or closed.

Hadi cast his vote under tight security near his home in Sana'a, where rival military forces control parts of the city. He described the election as the only way out of Yemen's crisis. Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakkul Karman also backed the election process as she voted in the capital.

The one-candidate vote is part of a Gulf Cooperation Council plan to ease Mr. Saleh out of office in response to months of youth-led protests against his 33-year rule. The plan guaranteed the outgoing president blanket immunity from prosecution.

Yemen's ruling party and parliamentary opposition endorsed the deal, but many protesters on the streets of Sana'a rejected it, saying it keeps power in the hands of corrupt elites. The youth activists also object to granting legal immunity to Mr. Saleh, whom they blame for the killings of hundreds of protesters by security forces.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington sees the vote as a “positive referendum by the Yemeni people on the transition process that their leaders have agree to.” She also acknowledged that an uncontested election does not represent “true democracy” but called it a “beginning point” for the transition.

Mr. Saleh remained in the United States on election day, receiving medical treatment for wounds suffered in a June bomb attack on his compound. He has vowed to return home and play a continued role in the politics of Yemen, where his sons and nephews retain command of powerful military units and security agencies.

Yemeni authorities say it could take 10 days to count the ballots of the country's more than 10 million eligible voters. After Hadi's expected inauguration, the GCC deal requires him to lead a reform process in which he must integrate Yemen's fractured security forces, oversee the drafting of a new constitution and prepare for multiparty elections in two years.