Turnout for Yemen’s presidential poll reached 60 percent despite violence and boycott calls in the country’s south and north, according to partial figures obtained Wednesday from local election monitors as the U.S. praised Yemenis for the “important step” of voting.
“Turnout hit an average of 60 percent” across the country, a monitor who supervised voting across several regions told AFP.
More than 12 million Yemenis were eligible to vote in the referendum-like election by which Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi will replace outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, based on a deal the latter signed in November after a 10-month uprising against his rule.
The poll was marred by violence with 10 people killed across the country’s south, most of them in the main city of Aden, as a government official said that hardline separatists, who have vowed to disrupt the election, seized half of the polling booths there.
The election, supported by the Common Forum parliamentary opposition and youth groups who have led the uprising, was boycotted by two major opposition groups -- the Southern Movement as well as northern Shiite rebels.
But election monitors said turnout hit 50 percent in Aden and between 30 to 40 percent across the remaining regions of the south.
A similar turnout of 50 percent was registered further north, in Saada, the stronghold of Shiite rebels, the sources said, adding that participation was lower in other northern cities.
Analysts said the turnout in the single-candidate election would reflect the level of support for 66-year-old Hadi to lead the transition.
In Sanaa, turnout registered 60 percent, while the highest rates were recorded in Yemen’s second largest cities Taez and Ibb, south of the capital.
The head of the High Electoral Commission Mohammed al-Hakimi said Tuesday that “some polling stations ran out of ballots” due to the large number of voters.
Votes are being counted manually and results are expected within two days, although they can take up to 10 days under Yemeni law.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday praised Yemenis for the “important step” of voting to end Saleh’s 33-year rule and pledged support as it moves toward democracy.
“This is another important step forward in their democratic transition process and continues the important work of political and constitutional reform,” Clinton said in a statement.
The “election sends a clear message that the people of Yemen are looking forward to a brighter democratic future. But there is still more work to be done,” she said.
Clinton promised that the United States “will continue to support Yemen” as the nation -- a key front in the global campaign against al-Qaeda -- addressed its “urgent economic, social and humanitarian challenges.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland acknowledged that a one-person vote was not a “true democracy” but called it a “beginning point” for a more competitive process.
“After they have a new constitution, our expectation is it will lead to full, free, fair, multi-party, multi-candidate elections, both for the legislature and for the executive,” Nuland told reporters.
Nuland said that Saleh was Tuesday in California and will enjoy diplomatic immunity until Hadi is inaugurated.
“Our understanding is that the Yemeni plan is to do that sometime later this week. So until then, Saleh is the sitting head of state and will be accorded immunities here,” Nuland said.
She declined comment on Saleh’s future movements. Human right activists have pressed for the United States to prosecute Saleh.
In a report this month based on witness accounts, Human Rights Watch said that Saleh’s forces stormed and shelled hospitals, evicted patients at gunpoint and beat medics during an assault last year against protests in the city of Taez.
The New York-based rights group said that at least 120 people died in Taez, of whom 57 were taking part in peaceful demonstrations and 22 were children.
A year-long uprising against Saleh was one of the bloodiest of the revolts that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East. Saleh becomes the fourth Arab autocrat toppled in the wave of unrest that began in Tunisia more than a year ago.
He leaves behind an economy in shambles, a rebellion in the north, separatism in the south, a tenacious wing of al-Qaeda, and a divided military still partly dominated by his kin. Yemen is one of the Arab world’s poorest and most chaotic countries, according to Reuters.
The northwest of the country is largely controlled by an insurgent group known as Houthis, whom Saleh tried to crush before a ceasefire in 2010. They have expanded their territory as central government authority crumbled, and also called for a boycott of the vote.