There was only one candidate on the ballot for Yemen’s presidential election held Monday. The long-time vice president of outgoing strong man Ali Abdullah Saleh, acting president Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi, was the only name for which the Yemeni people could vote — the result of a diplomatic deal worked out with Saleh by the Saudis and other Gulf states that will see the president leave power after 33 years later next month.
The agreement, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, calls for Hadi to serve for two years, overseeing the drafting of a new constitution, restructuring the armed forces, and preparing the nation for multi-party elections. Saleh will step down in 30 days, and has been granted immunity from prosecution for the hundreds of deaths that occurred during the uprising — a sticking point with the youthful protestors in the streets who braved bullets in order to rid the country of Saleh’s odious rule.
With chaos nearly guaranteed by Saleh’s departure, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will almost certainly continue to gain ground in the south where the authority of the state has frayed and there are few troops to combat them.
The election, seen as a sham by many in the opposition, nevertheless accomplished the singular goal of removing Saleh from office. Whether it will also prevent him from influencing politics after he is gone is another question. Saleh is currently in the US being treated for burns suffered in an assassination attempt last summer, and he has indicated he still plans to lead his party when he returns. This has many seeing Mr. Hadi as little more than a puppet of Saleh’s and has generated much distrust among the opposition — even those supporting the election of Mr. Hadi.
There were several groups in the north and south who boycotted the elections. In the southern province of Aden, violence broke out at several polling places, killing nine people. But voting in Sana was calm and orderly with a massive turnout.
Hadi, vice president since 1994 when Saleh plucked him from relative obscurity for the largely ceremonial office due to his roots in the southern part of the country which had just fought a vicious civil war with the north, now faces a near impossible situation: he must unite a country that has just spent a year tearing itself apart in a revolt against the authoritarian rule of Saleh. Whether Hadi can accomplish what needs to be done without alienating the factions in the opposition that backed the Saudi deal while appeasing the largely youthful street protestors who are extremely distrustful of Hadi’s still close ties with Saleh, remains to be seen.
The mountain of challenges facing the new president are daunting. He must deal with incipient revolts by Houthi rebels in the north, and unreconstructed separatists in the south. He must also fight a war against AQAP, which took advantage of the year long strife in Yemen to gain a foothold in the south by capturing and occupying dozens of towns and villages. Dislodging the terrorists will not be easy and he will have to do it with an army that is divided between Saleh loyalists, and those following a former ally of Saleh, Major General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar.
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