Yemenis recently participated in their country's first genuinely contested presidential election.
Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled the Persian Gulf state since 1978. During Yemen’s last presidential election, in 2000, President Saleh was re-elected with over ninety-six percent of the vote. This year, he received approximately seventy-seven percent of the vote. Opposition candidate and former oil executive Faisal bin Shamlan received over twenty-one percent.
The State Department congratulated the people of Yemen for conducting open, contested elections that were free of widespread violence and noted that despite some reports of irregularities on both sides these elections represent a significant and positive development in Yemen’s democratization. The European Union observer mission also called the election "an open and genuine contest" but cited problems, including illegal voting, voter intimidation and illegal campaigning by the ruling General People's Congress.
In spite of the problems, observer Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "It was a real election, with real competition. The monitoring by local and international observers," he said, "was very rigorous and polling took place in most stations in a reasonably fair manner."
Although no Yemeni women ran for president, women did compete in municipal elections. But E-U observers said women faced real obstacles and received little or no support from political parties or others of influence to strengthen their role. Moreover, high levels of illiteracy among Yemeni women contributed to their limited awareness of and participation in the electoral process.
There is clearly room for improvement of the electoral process in Yemen. Nevertheless, the competitive presidential vote suggests that change may slowly be coming to Yemen -- and to the region. In Kuwait, women were allowed to vote and run for office for the first time. Men and women voted in municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, in parliamentary elections in Jordan and Bahrain, and in multi-party presidential elections in Egypt. "These are important steps," said President George W. Bush, "and the governments should continue to move forward with other reforms that show they trust their people."
Every country travels the road to freedom at its own pace. And every democracy reflects a country's culture and traditions. But the goal for all, said President Bush, should be the same: a free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.