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One-Candidate Election Ends Saleh’s Presidential Rule in Yemen

The one-candidate Presidential election in Yemen happened today. You’ll never guess who won!

Yemenis voted Tuesday to instate their U.S.-backed vice president as the new head of state tasked with steering the country out of a crisis created by an anti-government uprising that has raged for a year.

The vote can hardly be called an election as Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is the only candidate. It is, however, a turning point for the impoverished Arab state, ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year authoritarian rule.

Despite the vote’s predetermined result, voting was brisk in the capital and some other cities, prompting election officials to keep the polls open two extra hours. Many Yemenis hope the breakthrough will bring stability to their country, even if it does not bring a radically different government.

I suppose it’s good news that turnout was high, but that’s only in Sanaa. The south mostly boycotted the vote and described it as a sham; at least five people died in attacks at polling places there, and nine electoral districts saw the vote halted because of violence. A good number of Yemenis hold no hope for the election to produce change, considering that Hadi was Saleh’s hand-picked Vice President. The youth protesters don’t plan to stop. Saleh, for his part, expects to hold the same amount of influence when he returns to Yemen as he did when he ruled the country for 33 years. And there’s still that little matter of a split in the military:

The renegade air force officers marched in the capital clutching banners and chanting, “Get out, get out,” a familiar cry in this country’s year-old uprising. They were not seeking the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but rather that of his half brother, who heads the air force.

“We will not give in until the removal of Mohammed Saleh,” the officers shouted […]

Of all the divisions plaguing this impoverished yet strategic Middle Eastern nation, the rifts in the military are among the most significant. Opposition politicians, street activists and Western diplomats say that as long as Saleh’s family remains powerful, so, too, will Saleh. And that will mean little real change, they say, for a nation struggling with al-Qaeda militants, a southern secessionist movement, and intensifying tribal and regional rivalries.

“In our point of view, the president’s relatives in the military and security institutions are the main obstacle to any improvement after Saleh is gone,” said Maizar al-Junaid, 32, a youth activist leader. “They have to be removed, and Yemen must build a new unified army.”

I think you can hardly see this election as an ending, marking the overthrow of another dictator in the Middle East and North Africa. This is a first step if it’s anything. And the great powers which initiated this change of power seem to be primarily interested in rebuilding that fractured military, which sounds like a right terrible idea in this tumultuous time.

A high-ranking Yemeni official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject said the United States would be playing a leading role in the restructuring of the armed forces after Mr. Hadi officially became president. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, said there would be a series of visits from American officials who would focus on a variety of issues, including military restructuring.

“There needs to be a national army and national military that is going to fight against Al Qaeda,” Mr. Brennan said in a telephone interview. American assistance will go only to military and security units that are commanded by individuals who “are going to be professional and direct their forces appropriately,” he said. “We believe the Yemeni people are tired of having Yemeni military point their guns at one another.”

More on that here. US officials promised increased aid to Hadi, a fragile leader if there ever was one, as a condition for continuing to fight the proxy war against terrorism in the country. My guess is that the US would be happier with just a military dictatorship in Yemen to fight the extremists, so they’re setting about to build one, and call it a democracy.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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