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Voting day in volatile Yemen
21 Feb 2012

SANAA — After a year of protests, diplomatic wrangling and an assassination attempt, Yemenis will draw a line under Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule today by voting in an uncontested election to install his deputy as president.

In the capital Sanaa new posters of the sole candidate, Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have been plastered over the peeling scraps of Saleh’s moustachioed image — a visible sign of a fourth Arab autocrat’s demise in the wake of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Hadi (66) became acting president when Saleh stepped aside in November under a deal hammered out by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours, fearful of a slide into lawlessness on their doorstep, and backed by the United States.

But civil war remains a real risk in a country facing an emboldened offshoot of Al-Qaeda, an economic crisis that has brought it to the brink of famine, a rebellion in the north and a southern secessionist movement that attacked a vehicle carrying ballot boxes on Sunday.

“If the new government fails to fulfil its obligations to reach out and reintegrate the southerners, the Houthis [northerners] and the youth … then conflict will be inevitable,” political analyst Abdulghani al-Iryani said.

The power transfer, brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has been touted by regional and Western powers as a triumph of diplomacy.

U.S. deputy national security advisor John Brennan praised Hadi’s efforts against Al-Qaeda and said on Sunday that Washington hoped the country would be a model of peaceful political transition in the Middle East.

Yet most Yemenis see Hadi as a caretaker rather than a seasoned leader. If he is unable to keep warring interests within the military from getting out of hand, many fear Yemen will be torn apart by those hoping to exploit a power vacuum.

“The GCC deal does nothing more than maintain the status quo,” Karim Rafari, a prominent political activist, said.

Apart from Al-Qaeda’s interest in using Yemen as a staging ground for attacks, Saudi Arabia suspects Shi’ite power Iran of supporting Houthi rebels in the north.

Holding the country together will be a feat, let alone drafting a constitution and holding a referendum to pave the way for a multi-party election in two years’ time, as laid out in the Gulf initiative.

— Reuters,

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