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Voices From the Field: Yemen Presidential Election and Inauguration

February 27, 2012

In response to the Yemeni presidential inauguration this past Saturday, we asked SFCG Yemen Country Director, Shoqi A. Maktary, to provide some thoughts on the election and Yemen’s future. Here are his words:

Youth proudly show they've voted.

The debates surrounding the early presidential election are finally over. The last three months in Yemen, following the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative’s signature, have included a power transfer from the president to his deputy, followed by a presidential election.

The issue of the legality of this election was among the highest topics discussed by ordinary people and politicians alike, both in the real world and cyberspace. This is because it first involves only one candidate, which could make it unconstitutional. Second it would mean replacing the president with another person who is considered part of the current regime. Therefore, there are arguments that it does not fulfill some of the Youth revolutionists’ demands for up-rooting the regime as a whole.

On February 21 Yemenis put an end to these discussions. Although the elections did not put an end to such debates, the high level of participation, which surprised everybody, sent a clear message that the people want to move on by closing the chapter of Ali Salah, the ex-president, who ruled Yemen for 33 years.

The number of votes reached over 6.6 million – more than the total number of votes casted in the last presidential election when two candidates were competing for the presidency. Even the reported violence accompanying the election did not reduce the glory of the results. Those who worked to prevent people from casting their votes lost the little remaining public support they might have had.

People took great pride walking on streets having the black ink on their thumps as evidence that they have contributed in shaping the future of Yemen. One activist commented on this saying, “it seems that the yearlong revolution did not only managed to remove the president, it changed something within the people. They finally understand that it’s their voice that matters!!”

Another significant observation was the unprecedented level of women participation, which reflected the impact of the revolution in reshaping women’s role as an active and even leading actor in changing Yemen. “We are now declaring the end of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s era and will build a new Yemen,” was how the Yemeni human rights’ activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mrs. Tawakul Karman described it.

With disregards to how some see the election as changing hands within the same regime, many believe it is Yemen’s way forward. “Elections are the only exit route from the crisis which has buffeted Yemen for the past year,” were the words of Mr. Hadi, the new Yemeni President, after casting his vote.

Although the election was a turning point in Yemen, the years that follow will decide Yemen’s fate. The 33 years of the ex-president and the yearlong revolution left behind an economy in shambles, a separatism movement in the south, a rebellion in the north, a growing Al Qaeda violence, and a divided military that is still partly dominated by ex-president relatives.

The success of the new president will be decided by his ability to achieve a tangible change that ordinary people can feel in their daily lives. However, to do so, a number of obstacles lie ahead. The major ones are:
- Restructuring the army and security forces on professional and national bases. This would collide with the fact that the kin of the ex-president are still holding many central positions of power within the army and security forces.
- Reviving the already weak Yemeni economy which suffered some hard blows during the last crisis. Many lost their jobs and oil exports, which made-up the biggest part of NGD, is down by half.

On the positive side, the will of the people to move on and reclaim their rights and the continued support and monitoring by regional and international powers have prevailed.

Thank you to Shoqi for sharing his thoughts and aspirations for Yemen’s future.

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