unrest mars Yemen poll
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in The Guardian, 28 April
YEMEN'S general election began in a mainly relaxed mood yesterday,
three years to the day after the outbreak of a civil war that almost tore the country
apart. Security was low-key in the capital Sana'a, and candidates' representatives and
independent observers reported only minor problems at polling stations.
But in southern Yemen, which tried to secede in 1994, a
guard at a polling station in Mukayras opened fire on fellow guards and election workers
hours before voting began, killing eight and wounding one, the interior minister, Mohammed
Hussein Arab, said. Officials said the guard had gone berserk.
Mr Arab said three other people were killed yesterday in
fights blamed on vendettas. But foreign and local election monitors insisted two were
killed in a clash between supporters of rival candidates.
The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, voted in the Sana'a
constituency where his son Ahmad is standing for the General People's Congress (GPC).
Along with other voters, he plunged his thumb into indelible ink used to stop double
voting. As he left, cheering crowds mobbed him.
Twelve parties and 1,557 independent candidates are
competing for 301 seats in the new parliament.
The two main parties - President Saleh's GPC and the Islah
(Reform) Party, an alliance of tribal and Islamist elements - currently share power. Both
are likely to increase their strength after the Socialist Party decided to boycott the
The coalition partners' decision to work together to
squeeze out the minor parties was frustrated last week when several candidates refused to
stand down. This turned the final days of the campaign into an unexpectedly vigorous but
generally good-natured contest.
In one of the capital's most hard-fought constituencies,
the two leading candidates - a religious teacher in traditional robes and a manager in a
suit - embraced at the polling station.
The result should be known within three days.