Sporadic unrest mars Yemen poll

Sporadic unrest mars Yemen poll

by Brian Whitaker 

Originally published in The Guardian, 28 April 1997

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 election.

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.