Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Zorro in the Yemeni Elections | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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My colleague and friend Munir Al-Mawri believes that it is of great necessity that oppositional candidate Faisal Bin Shamlan be elected President of Yemen.

He highlights 20 well-founded reasons to vote for him, among them the fact that he is a civilian at a time when people have grown tired of military men.; that he is renowned for his virtue and religiosity at a time when people are fed up with corruption; that he is pure when people have had enough of the enduring rule of one leader. The fact that he’s from the south means that electing him can only revere national unity and solidarity.

Yet despite all that, Bin Shamlan achieved modest results – only 20 per cent of the total votes. Have the results been tampered with?

It is the opposition’s right to be skeptical, bearing in mind that the opposing candidate is the authority that is the government, the state security, and the money – which is technically everything there is. However, it is also the government’s right to insist on the legitimacy of the victory because the opposing candidate is an unknown face who competed against someone the people have known for a quarter of a century.

Both interpretations are valid. Who would seriously believe that those from the ruling political party would intentionally use their presence and influence to correct the results, or blow the numbers out of proportion? We have no proof for that except a justified doubt and a long history of forgery and fraud in Arab organizations, and the glaring results the appointed always receive. In addition to people voting for the opposition not because they like it that much inasmuch as wanting to change a government as old as a tortoise –that is the attitude for all voters worldwide who desire change simply because they’re bored or frustrated with their current state. That’s why it seems odd that Bin Shamlan only got 20 per cent of the votes. Yet at the same time, we must declare without a doubt that there are contextual explanations to support the likelihood of Bin Shamlan’s defeat, primarily the fact that he is unknown to the public to a large extent. He also started his electoral campaign very late in life. In Yemen, by virtue of its limited capabilities it does not allow for an unknown’s recognition to spread wide, as opposed to developed countries. Additionally, you cannot compare Bin Shamlan’s capacity for mobilization to that of the president’s, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who owns the whole government whose voice reaches to the furthest metre in the country.

As opposed to Bin Shamlan, everyone knows President Saleh in Yemen – the young and the old –he is part of their daily lives, and has been part of their history for quite a while. The new candidate only appeared recently and was solely known to specialists in the energy field when he was the former Minister of Petroleum. In this situation, the largest contributing factor is what can be called commercial symbolism. When you walk into a supermarket, you decide in a matter of seconds what beverage you want to buy: You think either Coca Cola or its sister drink Pepsi Cola. You don’t think about the other fizzy drinks for only one reason, and that’s because you got used to them. You recognize them quickly and they have a dominant presence in your head. Had Bin Shamlan started his campaign earlier, he would have become an accepted commercial symbol, whereas today he cannot rival President Saleh in mass popularity. Whatever the case, whether the Yemeni elections were partially rigged or not, the fact remains that it was a compelling and courageous experience, and most important, is its establishment so that it becomes a paradigm rather than an exception in Yemeni life.