Yemeni Vote Expected To Install Next President

In Yemen Tuesday, voters are casting ballots in a one-candidate presidential election. They hope it may bring an end to a nearly year-long political crisis that's sparked much violence among various heavily-armed factions as well as pro-democracy protesters.

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One more Arab nation is changing a longtime leader. Yemen's president for 33 years was Ali Abdullah Saleh. Today, millions of Yemenis vote. And they're being asked to ratify a plan under which Saleh's vice president will replace him. NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Yemen's capital Sana'a.

And, Kelly, where exactly are you in the capital city?

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: I am in the neighborhood of Shmaleh(ph). It's a very poor neighborhood. It's a very crowded neighborhood. I have to tell you that the strong smell of garbage is ever present.

The last few months in Yemen have been really difficult. You know, you've seen a year of protests against Ali Abdullah Saleh. You've seen the economic situation go very south. You've seen services like electricity, water, garbage collection basically come to a halt.

So the way people are seeing today is as a way to kind of put an end to all that. So despite all of this, I'm in a neighborhood that's very excited. People are really happy to be out voting. And they say that for this neighborhood, it's the most people who've come out to vote in a long time.

INSKEEP: What does voting look like in Yemen. Are there specific polling places or how's it done?

MCEVERS: Specific polling places all around the country. As you would imagine, this is a particularly interesting election. I mean, to call it an election I think is a bit of a stretch. When you look at the ballot, it's a picture of one guy and there's a circle next to him. And what you're supposed to do is put a checkmark in that circle. So it seems more like a referendum.

People are ratifying this plan to pass power from Ali Abdullah Saleh on to his vice president. It was an agreement that was reached between Saleh, brokered by Arab countries, the U.S., Europe. The U.N. has been involved in this election process. The idea is to just sort of put an end to the violence that took place and to the strife and to start a kind of a new chapter in Yemen.

INSKEEP: It is kind of amazing given that Yemen seemed to be the country that was headed most toward chaos that it seems to have a transition, at least at this moment, that is a little more orderly than some other countries that have gone through Arab uprisings.

MCEVERS: Absolutely. I mean, you look at a place like Syria that kind of claims to be, you know, the regime in Syria claims to be the kind of sophisticated Arab regime and points to other countries and calls them violent. But, you know, yeah, this is a peaceful transition of power.

Not everybody's happy with it, for sure. You've got secessionists in the south and the problem with other groups in the north trying to establish an autonomous zone.

But what's kind of amazing about this one candidate is that he's something for everyone. Here in this neighborhood, it's a very religious neighborhood. I think people see him as a way maybe to look forward and put an end to some of the corruption they saw with the former regime.

We were in President Saleh's old neighborhood outside the city early this morning. They see this new candidate as just an extension of the old president. Some of the protesters see this new candidate as just the first step in a long reform process. So, I mean, I think we'll see which of those, if any of them, come true.

INSKEEP: Well, now, that's interesting, Kelly McEvers, because, as you note, both the old government and the protesters, the opposition, have endorsed this one man to take over as president, the current vice president. But surely he's going to face challenges in governance if different groups have different expectations for who he'll be.

MCEVERS: Exactly. I mean, that's the big question. Can he actually be this uniting figure for all these different groups with all these different interests? Yemen is already of divided society, and this year-long uprising divided I think it even further. So I think big, big question marks remain about whether he can unite people, whether he can keep the peace while some of this talking and negotiating is going on.

INSKEEP: Kelly, in the neighborhood where you are does it appear that most people are turning out to vote?

MCEVERS: It seems that way. Yeah. I mean, the polling station is in a school, and the school is designed in such a way that there's kind of an outdoor courtyard and then outdoor hallways. I mean, the place was just packed.

You know, everybody's kind of sticking to the line that, you know, this is a new day for Yemen and we're all behind this one man. But, again, I think people just, you know, this sense that they may actually have some agency going forward after 33 years of living under a dictator. I think that's pretty powerful.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Yemen's capital Sana'a.

Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

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