Yemen pushed Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after 33 years on Tuesday, voting to install his deputy as president with a mission to rescue the nation from poverty, chaos and the brink of civil war.
Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the sole, consensus candidate, billed the election as a way to move on after months of mass protests against Mr. Saleh’s rule, but the president’s sons and nephews still command key army units and security agencies.
“Elections are the only exit route from the crisis which has buffeted Yemen for the past year,” Mr. Hadi, Mr. Saleh’s long-time right-hand man and former army general, said after casting his vote.
But in a reminder of the daunting task he faces in holding Yemen together, at least nine people were killed in election-related violence in the south of the Arabian Peninsula country, where secessionists had called for an election boycott.
The vote will make Mr. Saleh, now in the United States for more treatment of burns suffered in an assassination attempt last June, the fourth Arab autocrat in a year to be removed from power after revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
He leaves behind an economy in shambles, a rebellion in the north, separatism in the south, a tenacious Yemen-based wing of al-Qaeda, and a divided military.
Long queues formed early in the morning outside polling stations in Sanaa amid tight security, after an explosion ripped through a voting centre in the southern port city of Aden on the eve of the vote.
“We are now declaring the end of the Ali Abdullah Saleh era and will build a new Yemen,” prominent Yemeni human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman said as she waited to cast her ballot outside a Sanaa university faculty.
Voters dipped their thumbs in ink and stamped their finger print on a ballot paper bearing a picture of Mr. Hadi and a map of Yemen in the colours of the rainbow.
Yellow taxis careened through Sanaa with young men sticking their arms out of the windows waving their freshly dyed thumbs.
A high turnout would give Mr. Hadi the legitimacy he needs to carry out changes outlined in a U.S.-backed power transfer deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours, including the drafting of a new constitution, restructuring the armed forces and preparing for multiparty elections in two years’ time.
An official from the election security committee estimated a turnout of 80 per cent, although final results will not be known for several days.
The vote was supported by the United States and Yemen’s rich neighbours led by Saudi Arabia, which – alarmed at signs of al-Qaeda exploiting political upheaval to strengthen its regional foothold – threw its weight behind the power transfer deal.
But the poll was denounced in advance by some of the youth activists who first took to the streets to demand President Saleh’s ouster. They regard the transfer plan as a pact among an elite they see as partners to the crimes of Mr. Saleh’s tenure, including the killings of protesters in the uprising against him.