Yemen's presidential election, 1999

Background to the election

Yemen's first direct presidential election took place on 23 September, 1999. President Ali Abdullah Salih, who came to power in 1978, won an unsurprising victory with 96.3% of the total votes. Below is a commentary published by before the election.

Bizarre contest

A FREE and openly competitive election would have marked another milestone in the development of Yemeni democracy. But, as in other newly democratising countries, the theory has proved a lot simpler than the practice ...

Yemen now finds itself in the bizarre position of holding a presidential contest in which both candidates are members of the same political party, the ruling General People's Congress (GPC).

This has come about mainly because of the way the electoral rules are constructed. To guarantee a competitive election, the constitution insists that there must be at least two candidates. But the constitution also also requires that nominees must be approved by at least 10% of the members of parliament.

Only two parties - the GPC and the Yemeni Islah Party - had a sufficient number of parliamentary seats to approve candidates (see1997 election results). Islah decided not to contest the election and declared its support for President Salih, whose party is the GPC.

Common sense

Hassan al-Haifiof the Yemen Times listens to what bus passengers think. If you read nothing else about the election, read this.

The Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) did want to field a candidate. But because it boycotted the 1997 general election, it had no members of parliament and so could not ensure approval of its nominee. At one stage there was talk of the GPC "lending" the Socialists enough members of parliament to approve a YSP candidate, but this came to nothing.

A further 23presidential nomineesalso failed to secure parliamentary approval.

The twoapproved candidateswere Ali Abdullah Salih, the incumbent president, and Najib Qahtan al-Sha'bi, son of a former president of south Yemen (before unification with the north). Both are members of the GPC, though Mr Sha'bi is standing as an independent.

A walk-over for Salih?

PRESIDENT Ali Abdullah Salih has held power in Sana'a since 1978 but he has never before been elected by a vote of the people. He is genuinely popular with many (but certainly not all) Yemenis. The opposition is divided and there is nobody who could seriously hope to defeat him at the polls.

Salih's victory is therefore a foregone conclusion. In effect, the election is not so much a contest to decide who will be president as an attempt to legitimise his position and to measure his approval rating among the public. However, it may not achieve either.

The weakness of the president's opponent means that legimitacy is unlikely to be much enhanced by the result.

Also, because this is the first direct election, there is no yardstick against which the level of approval for the president can easily be measured. But, given the ineffectiveness of Mr Sha'bi's campaign so far, President Salih ought to secure well over 80% of the popular vote. Anything less than that could be a sign that his popularity is fading.

Another indicator will be the number of people who turn out to vote.In the 1997parliamentary election, 2,827,261 people voted (representing 41% of those eligible to vote and 61% of those registered). That election - like to present one - was conducted in the face of a Socialist boycott. A lower turnout this time would reflect a lack of enthusiasm for the president or the way the election has been conducted.

Articles about the election

Salih's hollow poll win
Middle East International, 1 October 1999

Salih set to win
BBC, 23-9-99

Guns and butter
Middle East International, 17-9-99

President starts his campaign at a difficult time
Yemen Times, 6-Sep-99

Presidential candidate al-Shaabi pleads for a just campaign
Yemen Times, 16-Aug-99

Foreign observers to monitor election
Yemen Times, 16-Aug-99

Two views of the election
Yemen Times, 16-Aug-99

Al-Shaabi comments on the performance of the Supreme Elections Commission
Yemen Times, 16-Aug-99

Salih and his shadow
Middle East International, 30-Jul-99

The presidential race is on
Statements by the opposition, the GPC and al-Sha'abi - Yemen Times 26-Jul-99

Competition suits Salih
Middle East International, 16-Jul-99

Showcasing democracy
Middle East International, 2-Jul-99

Bizarre tangle
Middle East International,25-Dec-98