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Cablegate: Yemen,S Election: Citizens Bet On Democracy

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 000955

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM YM DEMOCRATIC REFORM DOMESTIC POLITICS
SUBJECT: YEMEN,S ELECTION: CITIZENS BET ON DEMOCRACY


1. (U) Summary: The April 27 parliamentary election
demonstrated significant progress in Yemen's democratic path
despite some flaws. Obvious enthusiasm and interest by
voters in the campaign, including more than 75% turnout on
election day, indicate a healthy appetite for democracy in
Yemen. The preliminary results contain little change, with
the ruling party maintaining a wide majority of more than 70%
of the seats. The Islah party, however, made surprising
gains in the urban city of Sanaa. In a region with a noted
lack of healthy democratic trends, this exercise in democracy
represents an important example. End Summary.

---------------------------------
Progress on the Road to Democracy
---------------------------------

2. (U) Yemen,s third parliamentary election since
unification represents another milestone in movement towards
full democracy despite flaws in its election and political
processes, as noted by the National Democratic Institute
(NDI) and other political observers (see paragraph 10 below).
The campaign period saw a palpable sense of enthusiasm and
participation, culminating in a huge turnout of 76% of
registered voters on election day. With a 40% increase in
women registered to vote over the last registration, massive
numbers of women exercised their right to freely choose their
representatives. As NDI reports, citizens' "deepening sense
of democratic entitlement is an important indication of
Yemen,s progress. . ."

3. (U) President Saleh played a constructive and important
role in encouraging the democratic process. His comments at
several press conferences before and during the election made
several key points that were important for the peaceful
nature of election day and for setting the tone of democratic
rights. He said on April 27, "we have to accept defeat or
victory with a democratic spirit." Election day was
relatively peaceful compared to past elections, owing in part
to the prominence placed on a "weapons free day." He also
made a comparison to Iraq, saying that he did not want
"99.9%" of the vote for the ruling party, and noted that a
strong democratic showing would ensure that Yemen was safe
from actions similar to what happened in Iraq.

--------------------------
Results Show Little Change;
Islah Gains in Urban Areas
--------------------------

4. (U) The Supreme Commission for Elections and Referenda
(SCER) announced official results on April 30, under the
72-hour deadline mandated by election law. Out of 301
constituencies, final results are known in 280 while 21
remain under dispute. The ruling General People's Congress
(GPC) garnered an overwhelming majority with 214 seats so
far, more than 70%. The opposition Islah party gained 40
seats (13%), the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) 7 seats (2%),
and independents and smaller parties 19 seats. One woman of
the 11 female candidates won, marking a decrease from the
last parliament, which had two women.

5. (U) The SCER did not give specific details about the
problems holding up the disputed constituencies but noted
that some might require by-elections. Observers note that
these constituencies face problems such as counting
commissioners who refuse to complete the count and stolen
ballot boxes.

6. (U) Many observers were surprised that the opposition
parties, particularly Islah, did not do better in the
election. During the campaign, it appeared that the
opposition parties would increase their seats, particularly
Islah. However, only in Sanaa city did Islah make noticeable
gains, increasing their number from one to over half of the
constituencies. This result in a major urban area surprised
many because Islah's strongholds tend to be in traditional
tribal areas. Some observers were shocked as well that the
Islah won in what is called the "unity constituency," where
President Saleh votes and where his son last held the seat.
While difficult to confirm, some observers believe that fraud
and political intimidation did effect the outcome of the
election in GPC's favor in some constituencies outside of
Sanaa.

7. (U) Political observers believe that Islah's gains in
Sanaa were a result of dissatisfaction with the government,
Islah's message of change resonating with voters, a
well-organized campaign and poor GPC candidate selection.

---------------
Campaign Issues
---------------

8. (U) "Bread and butter" issues dominated the election,
with economic and law and order issues prevalent.
Anti-corruption and anti-government messages were popular
among opposition parties. Although observers had thought
that the war in Iraq and ongoing U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism
cooperation would become big issues, the fall of Baghdad
three weeks before election day largely diminished the issue.
As one Yemeni observer said, "when people are hungry, they
don't care about foreign policy."
-------
Comment
-------
9. (U) While far from perfect, these elections demonstrated
an entrenchment of political rights by Yemeni citizens that
sets an example for future democratic trends in the region.
The flaws in the process must be vigorously addressed before
the next election in 2006, with the help of the international
community, to avoid backsliding in Yemen's democratic
progress.

--------------------------------------------- ------
NDI Report: Significant Step Forward Despite Flaws
--------------------------------------------- ------

10. (U) As NDI described in its preliminary statement on
April 29, both positive and negative developments
characterized the elections. The full report, with specific
examples and anecdotal evidence, was sent to NEA/ARP and is
also available at www.ndi.org. The positive developments
include:

-- a relatively peaceful election, with fewer injuries and
deaths due to violent clashes than in previous elections;

-- full participation by all major political parties allowing
for increased competition and a further entrenchment of the
multi-party system;

-- a well-administered and organized balloting process on
election day;

-- significant professional improvements by the Supreme
Commission for Elections and Referenda (SCER);

-- close and constructive cooperation between international
actors, including NDI, International Foundation for Electoral
Systems (IFES) and the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the
SCER, resulting in significant administrative and political
improvements.

Despite many positive developments, significant flaws remain
that must be addressed vigorously in future election
processes, including:

-- evidence of election law violations, primarily but not
exclusively by the GPC, including political intimidation,
underage voting, inappropriate behavior by security forces
and vote buying on election day;

-- obstruction by counting commissioners that has caused the
results of more than 20 constituencies to go unannounced 72
hours after the end of voting, calling into question the
credibility of results in these areas.

For example,
HULL

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