Feverish race [Archives:2006/980/Reportage]

September 11 2006

Sheima Mahmoud
Yemen's 9 million voters have less than 10 days until they vote in these competitive presidential elections. Observers unanimously agree the coming polls will leave behind a fingerprint in Yemeni life at the democratic political level.

After the Parliament and the Al-Shura Council approved five candidates on July 24, voters were divided into supporters for independent contenders, Ahmad Al-Majidi and Fathi Al-Azab and those who support General People Congress and Joint Meeting Parties and National Opposition Assembly candidates: Ali Abdullah Saleh and Faisal Bin Shamlan, Yasin Abdu Sa'eed.

As usual, voters are hesitant for whom to vote. The majority of them believe independent candidates don't form an alliances.

Media seem to align the candidates together counting Sa'eed and Al-Majidi as GPC and Al-Azab as JMP. This eliminates those three and makes the electoral process a competition between Saleh and Bin Shamlan.

Competition for presidential power is more than a competition for votes and the highest political office. Through the following survey, we found that there is strong competition for gaining votes, and each party works hard for attracting the opponent's voters in order to depict a picture in the minds of those supporting the other party and confuse them.

Former President of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, Abdulbari Taher, commented that the opposition took a commendable step by naming a single candidate to compete with Saleh. By all means, this step broke the hurdle for real competition, but the competition is still not equal.

Taher confirmed the opposition must not feel Bin Shamlan's nomination is enough; it has to insist on purifying voter registers from violations and influence by media, army, police and public officials. Taher believes Yemen has taken a great step toward the future because the race for the country's highest political post, even for the first time in the Yemeni history, opens a new window to a better future.

“Elections, although 100 percent free and fair, don't mean democracy, but competition for the highest post is of crucial importance and provides an indicator of the possibility of competition in different areas, including political opposition parties, unions and administrative units,” said the YJS ex-president.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Fakih, Professor of Political Sciences at Sana'a University, said: “Irrespective of the vote result, the coming two months are due to see redesigning of the political map. Opposition victory is not the issue of these elections. What does matter is that opposition proves that it has a large number of supporters, as well as to pressure the ruling party to admit it is a partner in the political work, particularly as the ruler himself is not convinced that opposition and citizens are partners.”

Al-Fakih feared vote-fraud will occur or the ruling party may refuse to submit to the vote results. Consequently, the country will enter a civil war. He called nations to pay attention to risks and abide by the national principles particularly after tribesmen besieged a voting center after the killing of a center manager.

“The opposition's competition to threaten the ruler is more valuable than the principle of winning and losing,” he noted.

The days to come will have more election battles.

Abdulmalik Al-Fuhaidi, a journalist, is of the opinion it is not possible to talk about harmony between Bin Shamlan supporters. This expression exceeds the limit of facts and is away from reality. He justified his viewpoint by saying: “Harmony comes from analogy or at least similarity in ideological ideas and viewpoints. JMP regulations lack the requirements and standards of harmony. It is impossible for the Islamic extremist ideology to comply with the Marxist thought.”

Al-Fuhaidi says the JMP devoted its media to popularizing other leaders without any hint about Bin Shamlan who suddenly appeared to voters and opposition parties.

“Why did these parties not nominate Mohamed Al-Yadoumi, Mohamed Qahtan, Yasin Sa'eed Nu'man or Sultan Al-Atwani whose photos and statements topped pages of newspapers during this year and the year before?” he inquired.

Al-Fuhaidi added that forcing all those who belong to JMP to vote for Bin Shamlan is not possible, as there are independent candidates who belong to these parties, particularly Al-Azab, who may gain more Islah Party votes than Bin Shamlan.

Mohamed Al-Ghubari, a journalist, said the JMP selected the best candidate to run for president saying Faisal Bin Shamlan can deal with the two primary problems: the regional claims and the spread of corruption.

“Bin Shamlan confirms this time the presidential elections are not a play, of which the hero is the ruling party alone. As it is clear, the opposition candidate who adopted the comprehensive political reform project, announced by JMP, will be one of the presidential equation poles,” the journalist added.

He indicated there are two primary forces to compete for voter's will and trust. The first force calls for reform and wants to help Yemen avoid the risk of collapse and division while the other adheres to its policy that is responsible for the bad political, economic and social situations. Therefore, international reports warn these situations will drive the country to catastrophe.

Hana Al-Salahi said: “Faisal Bin Shamlan is a good man and I respect him, but I will vote for Ali Abdullah Saleh since he is wiser to rule the country in the meantime.”

Commenting on the capacity of candidates, Lawyer Mohamed Naji Allaw said: “the two parties of the battle are not equal. Therefore, the ruling party used all the state facilities for its electoral campaign, which was crowned last week at Al-Sab'een Square. As it is the habit of the party, as well as the Arab rulers, the GPC will use all these facilities in favor of its candidate, even at the expense of election laws.

Allaw expected Yemeni people, including government employees and security and military recruits to possibly surprise because they proved in the parliamentary polls they don't submit to pressure by the ruling party.

Many educated people comment on the Yemeni elections by saying they will be a replica of last year's Egyptian presidential polls as the closest rival to Mubarak won only half a million votes.

Suada Elayah, a journalist, says all parties, without any exception, are attending training courses in Egypt to benefit from the democratic experience in the biggest Arab country. “I expect the polls to be a replica of the Egyptian presidential elections with a little difference. There will be nothing new under the sun.”

Aws Al-Eryani, an electronics company owner, believes voters will protest the poor situations in the country, regardless of what the coming ruler will do for the country. Supporting Bin Shamlan, JMP leaders and members want to oppose the ruling party and its regime.

Asking Maha Al-Absi, a government employee, about who is closer to winning. “Of Course, Ali Abdullah Saleh,” she replied.

“How is it possible for a president, who have been ruling Yemen for 28 years, to relinquish power easily. No one can argue competition will be strong as the JMP has a strong candidate and a large number of supporters, but Saleh controls all the state's facilities, and because of this I doubt the integrity of the polls,” Al-Absi said.