Yemenis voted in large numbers yesterday as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year hardline rule came to an end in a poll marred by deadly clashes in the south and a Shiite rebel boycott in the north.
Men and women lined up separately even before polling stations opened their doors in Sana’a at 8am, waiting to cast their votes for the only name on the ballot: Yemeni Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Women came out in strength in the capital yesterday.
“We were surprised at the large number of women present even before polling stations opened,” said Abir Afifi, who is in charge of a female polling booth.
The Arab world’s first female Nobel peace laureate, Tawakkul Karman, hailed the poll as a “day of celebration” for Yemenis.
Karman said the vote marked an “end to the despotism and oppression” of Saleh’s 33-year rule.
However, in a word of caution, she urged Hadi “to work for young people who took to the streets a year ago. If their goals are not achieved, Yemen’s youths will force him out just as they did Saleh.”
The election reflected the deep divisions and long-standing conflicts that still plague the Arab world’s poorest country.
Despite heightened security throughout the south, violence, not voting, characterized the day.
At least four people were killed, including a child, and dozens of others wounded in vote-related violence yesterday, medics and security officials said.
Meanwhile, separatists seized half the polling booths in the port city of Aden, a government official said.
“Half of the polling booths in Aden have been shut down after they were seized by gunmen from the Southern Movement,” a local government official said.
Witnesses said militants stormed the booths and confiscated ballot boxes as security forces that were deployed to guard the stations withdrew from their posts.
Southern separatists, who say the election fails to meet their aspirations for autonomy or southern independence, had earlier announced a boycott of the poll and hardliners from the group called for a day of “civil disobedience” to prevent the vote.
In the Shiite rebel strongholds of the north, many polling stations were either deserted or closed.
Results are expected in the next few days, although under Yemeni law it can take up to 10 days before full results are announced.
The turnout in the single-candidate election will give some idea of the support 66-year-old Hadi has from his countrymen to lead the transitional period.