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Posters, loudspeakers and flags as Yemen ends campaign

April 26, 1997

SAN`A, Yemen (AP) _ Convoys of cars plastered with political symbols careened through the Yemeni capital Saturday, the last day of campaigning for parliamentary elections seen as a key test of the region’s only full-fledged democracy.

Supporters of the ruling General People’s Congress and its principal foe, the Islamic Islah party, passed out leaflets, carried flags and even danced with traditional daggers in anticipation of the vote for a new 301-member parliament.

The election Sunday comes three years after a civil war almost tore apart the troubled union in 1990 of the conservative, traditional north and the socialist south. More than a fight over issues, many Yemenis see the vote as an important indication of whether democracy has taken root in the region’s bleak landscape.

Kuwait is the only other country on the Arabian Peninsula which has held elections for a parliament, but women are disenfranchised and only a fraction of men have the right to vote.

``Look at the democracy here,″ Yahya Alwan, a 28-year-old campaigner for the ruling Congress party, said as he looked at a convoy of 13 cars parading through the capital San`a. ``We are a poor people, but we are rich in hospitality and freedom.″

More than two-thirds of the 2,311 candidates are independents, although many are believed to be backed by the two main parties. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Congress is putting forth 232 candidates, including the president’s eldest son, and Islah 201.

About 4.6 million of Yemen’s 16 million people are registered to vote, more than one-quarter of them women.

The Socialist Party, which won the third-largest number of seats in the last parliamentary election in 1993, has boycotted the vote, saying the results have already been determined by the ruling party. It was joined by three other parties, which organized small protests Saturday in Aden and Mukalla, the main southern cities.

The Congress and Islah have joined in a shaky coalition since the war, but their differences have emerged during the boisterous campaign. The Congress has promised more economic reform to better Yemen’s per capita income of $300, while Islah has condemned corruption and the hardships those reforms have caused.

Both parties rely on a network of patronage and connections that are effective in a society still dominated by tribes.

They mobilized hundreds of followers Saturday, driving cars plastered with Congress’ symbol of the horse and Islah’s symbol of the sun. Yemen’s red, white and black flag fluttered from the cars, which broadcast appeals into the evening.

More than 100 observers from Europe, the United States and other countries are in Yemen to monitor the vote. Despite widespread charges of vote-rigging and intimidation, the monitors have said the campaign has been largely free and fair.

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