x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

First in line to vote in a new chapter in Yemen history

Standing proudly in front of election monitors and dozens of eager voters, Mohammed Azeed etches out a place for himself in Yemeni history.

Mohammed Azeed, 70, a former military officer waits to cast his vote in the Yemeni presidential election.
Mohammed Azeed, 70, a former military officer waits to cast his vote in the Yemeni presidential election.

SANAA // Standing proudly yesterday morning in front of election monitors and dozens of eager voters, Mohammed Azeed etched out a place for himself in Yemeni history.

Or at least in his neighbourhood in the capital, Sanaa.

The 70-year-old father of four was first in line to cast his vote for president at Polling Centre B in Bustan Al Sultan, his birthplace and home, showing up an hour before its 8am opening. That makes him one of the first in the country to vote.

"I don't sleep much at all in the mornings any more," he said, proudly displaying from his belt a traditional Yemeni knife, or Jambiya. "So it was easy to come here."

So was making the choice for president. In this election, which Yemenis hail as a step towards a better future, there was only one option: the vice president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

In a region swept up by revolutionary fervour that has toppled several long-serving leaders, the poll is not short of critics.

Some see it as a mere swapping of power akin to the old Arab ways, from unelected father to unelected son or, in Yemen's case, from autocrat to enigmatic, unopposed deputy.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for more than three decades, is handing over the presidency to Mr Hadi, his vice president of almost two decades.

But the particulars did not seem to matter to Mr Azeed.

For him, it was not so much about how power was transferred - just as long as it was transferred.

"We need stability, security in Yemen," he said. Men in line behind him grunted in agreement. "We need change."

This is a common refrain in Yemen, even among the residents here in Bustan Al Sultan, known for their loyalty to the outgoing Mr Saleh.

Like the rest of the country, many have no jobs and electricity blackouts and fuel shortages are rife.

But unlike the youth protesters in Sanaa's Change Square who speak of Mr Saleh's rule with vitriol, here people still utter nice things.

Like Mr Azeed.

"I love Saleh," he said enthusiastically.

Mr Azeed stood in line ready to dip his finger in purple ink and use his thumbprint as an endorsement of Mr Hadi on the ballot.

An election monitor painstakingly counted out the ballots in front of him, holding up the process for about 20 minutes.

Mr Azeed did not care. He chatted about military service and why Mr Saleh was not such a bad guy.

Asked why he liked Mr Hadi, he responded: "He was vice president."

Asked to clarify, he said: "Well, he did what vice presidents do."

Finally, he was called forward to a desk manned by two election officials. They placed a ballot in front of him. Then he dipped his thumb into the ink and made his mark for Mr Hadi.

It felt good, he said afterwards, holding an ink-stained thumb to the sky.

"This is something I was hoping for all night," he said.

To vote?

No, Mr Azeed said.

"To be the first person here."

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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