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Cablegate: Yemeni Election Heats Up

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 000881

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM YM DEMOCRATIC REFORM DOMESTIC POLITICS
SUBJECT: YEMENI ELECTION HEATS UP

REF: A. SANAA 875
B. SANAA 818
C. SANAA 706
D. SANAA 263

1. (U) Summary: With three days left in the campaign,
Yemen's April 27 parliamentary elections dominate the
political scene (refs b and c). The opposition Islah party
looks likely to gain seats against the ruling General
People's Congress (GPC), although no observers predict that
the GPC will lose its majority. A war of harsh words between
the political parties has not yet escalated into violence.
Yemen has declared April 27 a "weapons free day" in another
measure to help ensure peaceful elections. More than 30,000
international and domestic election observers will deploy to
assess the conduct of Yemen,s third parliamentary election
(ref a). End Summary.

------------------------------------
Predictions Difficult,
but Islah Will Likely Narrow the Gap
------------------------------------

2. (U) Even though the campaign is almost over, predictions
of probable winners remain complicated. Clear differences in
campaign issues are for the most part difficult to discern
between the parties, leaving the process of the campaign a
more important factor in its outcome. A well organized
campaign by the Islah party, coupled with what some observers
call poor candidate selection by the GPC, make it likely that
the wide gap between the GPC and Islah in the last parliament
will be narrowed from the previous 223 to 64 margin.

3. (U) Evidence of the Islah party's strong campaign is
clear. Islah party activists are going door-to-door in their
constituencies asking citizens for their vote. Their
campaign literature is well-composed and modern in style,
with clear and concise messages. Islah party banners,
posters, flags and mountain sculptures of their party symbol,
the sun, blanket Sanaa, Marib, Aden and other areas of Yemen.
In contrast, while the GPC has also blanketed Yemen with
such material, there is little evidence of door-to-door
campaigning or well-crafted campaign literature. As one GPC
Shura Council member lamented to Pol/Econoff, the GPC is like
an elephant when it comes to embracing modern campaign
methods -- if one grabs its foot, it takes a long time for
the touch to reach its brain. He also noted that being in
government allows for laziness in the campaign, while being
in opposition makes their supporters motivated to work hard.
According to him, the strong Islah grassroots campaign has
many GPC party leaders concerned.

4. (U) Informed observers expect the Yemeni Socialist Party
(YSP) -- which boycotted the 1997 election -- to gain between
10 and 15 seats, with small numbers of other seats going to
various smaller political parties and independents.

------------------------------------
Campaign Rife with Partisan Fighting
------------------------------------

5. (U) A battle is waging via faxes, newspapers, electronic
media and word of mouth between political parties accusing
each other of unfair campaign practices and violations of
election law. Accusations run the gamut from exploiting
government property for campaigning to using rhetoric
intended to incite to tearing down each other's posters to
interfering with campaign rallies. Opposition parties also
raised concerns about the use of State media in favor of the
GPC and various actions by the Supreme Commission for
Elections and Referenda (SCER), including allegedly
preventing some opposition party election commissioners from
working and erroneously eliminating some candidates by citing
improper registration. Observers characterize these
complaints, however, as minor.

6. (U) Disputes in several constituencies have caused
concern and, in some cases, direct action by the SCER. For
example, according to the UNDP, the election has been
suspended in one constituency because one political party
continues to hold hostage a ballot box from the 1997
elections.

7. (U) Despite reported clashes in several constituencies,
there are no reports of deaths as a result of violence.

--------------------------------------
The Al-Ahmar Clan Straddles Both Sides;
A Son Clashes with Governor
--------------------------------------

8. (U) Leader of the Islah party and former Speaker of
Parliament Sheikh al-Ahmar has five sons running in the
elections, three for his Islah party and two for the GPC. In
an example of tribe triumphing over party, one GPC candidate
son is being contested by a powerful Islahi Sheikh from the
same tribe. It remains to be seen if this is a serious
challenge that could engender violence or insurance to make
sure the seat remains within the tribe.

9. (U) The eldest al-Ahmar son, an Islah party candidate,
clashed with the GPC governor of Amran on April 16, injuring
several, when the governor was campaigning in the son's
district. The SCER responded by suspending the election in
that constituency, while the governor offered his resignation
in protest. However, according to a Shura Council contact,
the dispute has been resolved after high level discussions
sponsored by President Saleh. The election is on, and the
governor is still in place.

------------------------------
"Weapons Free Day" Declared;
Sporadic Violence Still Likely
------------------------------

10. (U) The SCER announced early this week that election
day should be "weapons free," a move echoed by ROYG
officials. The first announcement of its kind in Yemen, it
encourages all Yemenis to leave their weapons at home to
ensure a peaceful election. The UNDP and SCER voter
education project will include wide dissemination of the
directive as part of its overall outreach efforts, which are
widespread. Education efforts include television skits,
radio spots, banners, cars with megaphones and information
tents in all areas of Yemen. Some of the other messages
disseminated by the project include assuring voters that
their ballot is secret, encouraging citizens to exercise
their right to vote, reminding women to vote and instructing
voters to only vote once.

11. (U) The call for a "weapons free day" is part of
several moves by government, political parties and other
stakeholders to discourage violence during the election
period. Yemen has experienced sporadic violence in every one
of its elections and voter registration periods since
unification, including more than 20 killed during the 2001
local elections and 7 killed during the 2002 voter
registration. The SCER will not allow any weapons inside
voting centers. A widely publicized "Code of Honor" was
signed April 9 by 22 political parties to encourage all
parties in Yemen to conduct free and fair campaigns and
refrain from electoral violence (ref d). Spurred by an
initiative from IFES and NDI in late 2002, President Saleh
took sponsorship of the Code, formed a committee of political
parties and came to an agreement. While the initiative has
significant symbolic power, neither the Code nor the
committee has any enforcement measures to ensure that the
signatories live up to the measure.

12. (U) A decision pushed by the political parties that was
issued by the SCER recently threatens to heighten tensions on
election day. Because Yemen does not have a tradition of
citizens holding identity documents, internationals and the
SCER had intended to allow citizens to vote if they forgot
their voter registration card or other identification as long
as their name and photo could be verified on the voter lists
and attested to by all commission members. For reasons
unclear to the UNDP director of the election support project,
the Islah party refused to go along with the suggestion.
This decision could increase the likelihood of clashes on
election day as voters without ID are turned away from the
polls.
HULL

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