Salih wins again
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 2 May, 2003
went to the polls on April 27 to elect their third parliament
since the multi-party system was introduced in 1990.
A total of 1,396 candidates from
22 parties, plus independents, were contesting 301 parliamentary
seats. This time, 11 female candidates were standing and the
proportion of women registered to vote - about 40% of the total -
was among the highest in the Middle East.
As on previous occasions, the
elections were marred by allegations of vote-rigging and some
violence. Although results in some constituencies were still to be
declared as MEI went to press, it was clear that President Ali
Abdullah Salih's General People's Congress had increased its
already huge majority, winning 210 seats or more. The Islah party
had at least 40, the Socialists 12 and others 13.
According to the Supreme
Commission for Elections, 14 people were slightly injured in
"petty" exchanges of gunfire between supporters of rival
candidates on polling day but it was later reported that three had
died of their wounds.
Even so, the violence was less
than in the municipal elections of 2001 when 29 people were
killed, or the 1997 parliamentary elections when at least 11 died.
In Ta'izz province, angry voters
set fire to boxes at two polling stations following complaints of
Elsewhere, security forces removed
several ballot boxes from one polling station, according to the
opposition Islah party. In al-Jawf province, the election
committee said another box was snatched but returned after two
The Yemen Times published a
photograph of children aged between seven and 15 who formed a long
queue to vote at a polling station in Amran province. The paper
said they had been given registration cards and instructed by
their teachers to vote for the ruling GPC.
Despite these reported
irregularities, the Yemen Times suggested the latest elections
were generally better-conducted than in the past, with more
transparency and more awareness among voters.
There were also signs of a
maturing approach by the opposition parties. The Socialist party,
which boycotted the 1997 elections, fielded 109 candidates this
time and reached an agreement with the Islah party and others in
more than 100 constituencies to avoid splitting the
The plethora of opposition
candidates competing against each, together with the
first-past-the post voting system, helped the GPC to win many
seats in the past.
Speaking on the eve of the
elections, President Salih said: "The fall of the Iraqi
regime should be a lesson for all Arab rulers. Today, we have to
adopt democracy as a choice for ruling. It is an important
Some have accused the ruling party
of using public funds for its campaign, though the president
"We want all political powers
to be represented under the parliament's dome," he said after
casting his vote. "We want all the parties to have a chance,
and we don't want a 99.9% majority."
Meanwhile, the government has
placed advertisements in Yemeni newspapers offering a reward of
one million riyals ($8,300) for information leading to the
recapture of 10 al-Qaeda suspects who escaped from jail in Aden on
The men, accused of the attack on
USS Cole which killed 17 American sailors in October 2000,
allegedly drilled through a wall in the prison. According to
Yemeni officials, 25 people have been detained in connection with
the breakout, including a taxi driver who drove the fugitives to a
The escaped suspects had been held
beyond the legal time limit for detention without trial,
apparently at the request of the United States.