Election turnout surprises nation

Published on 23 February 2012 in News
Nadia Al-Sakkaf (author)

Nadia Al-Sakkaf

The turnout rate on ballot boxes exceeded 70 percent according to the Supeme Election Committee.

The turnout rate on ballot boxes exceeded 70 percent according to the Supeme Election Committee.

SANA’A, Feb. 22 — At a press conference held on the night of Yemen's early presidential election, Mohammed Al-Hakimi, chairman of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum, said that voter turnout had far exceeded expectations.

In preparation for Election Day, the SCER had printed out 13 million ballot papers. Meanwhile, several polling centers ran out of ballots, indicating a turnout rate exceeding 70 per cent at such locations in northern governorates.

Although most polling centers remained open until at least 6 PM, polling centers in several southern governorates, including Aden and Al-Baidha, closed down soon after 1 PM for security reasons.

The most significant security incident included the killing of four men, security and staff of branch committees in Aden and Taiz. Other incidents were reported in Aden, Dhale’e, Mukalla and Lahj, where some ballot boxes were burnt and polling centers raided.

“It's the first time for us to participate in an election that Saleh is not a part of. It feels unreal,” said Abdulmalik Al-Ja’abi, a voter from Sabeen.

At the same time, some older citizens still haven't comprehended this election's key difference. An old, illiterate woman in Sana'a was shocked not to see former president Saleh's picture on the ballot paper. When she was told he wasn't running this time, she simply didn't understand and proceeded to leave – this according to voters at a polling center at Sho'ob, located near the Old City of Sana'a.

Reporting mechanism

Despite an attempt to use 260 computers in urban centers, due to technical errors early on Election Day, the electoral process throughout the country was mostly conducted manually.

“There are places where there isn’t even electricity,” said Al-Hakimi. “This is why we have to do everything manually and wait for the official memos to be transported from branch committees to the main committees in governorate centers to be counted before they arrive at the commission’s headquarters.”

He admitted that they already have preliminary results which were sent by fax and via text messages but that due to legal constraints these cannot be announced.

Provisions were made to include first-time voters.  People had the ability to vote at any center provided they had an ID document, which facilitated voting for Yemenis living in Internally Displaced Persons camps, and allowed voters registered in particular centers to vote in others because of security or other concerns.

Several donor organizations provided financial or technical support for Yemen’s elections.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems repaired old metal voting booths and purchased 26,000 cardboard polling booths, 104,000 armbands for security, funded and managed a media center for journalists, bought information technology and communications equipment for the operations center and held public outreach activities.

 “I think the election went very positively, and the election commission prepared the procedures in order to make it as inclusive as possible. Moreover, there were many campaigns and awareness events to promote the elections, launched not just by SCER but also by business communities, political parties and vice president Hadi himself,” said Grant Kippen, IFES Party Chief in Yemen.

Kippen added that when he visited polling centers on election day, with ice cream and beverage vendors present, there was an atmosphere not just of duty but of festivity also. Security forces wore there identification badges, letting people know they were affiliated with the election.

The IFES team had also spoken to members of subcommittees, who communicated that the training they had received had been adequate, and that all needed materials had been available.

There were 583 international observers and 25,000 domestics observers present on Election Day, most from the Orsod popular campaign for monitoring of the election. The campaign reported that 92 percent of voting materials were available on time at the centers. It also reported that 56 percent of the voting started as scheduled, while 82 percent of voting booths were designed to allow votes to be cast in privacy.

As for violations, the majority (around 62 percent) of cited incidents involved failures to check voter IDs or names on voter lists, followed by campaigning inside election centers (people campaigning comprising 39 percent, and campaigning materials 22 percent, of such violations). The least-reported violation was voter intimidation (3 percent), with people encouraging voters to boycott the elections coming in at 10 percent.