IFES Poll worker Training and the Parliamentary Elections in Yemen
The Republic of Yemen held multiparty parliamentary elections on April 27, 1997, the second such elections since the unification of North Yemen and South Yemen in 1990 and the first since the 1994 civil war. Yemen's "experiment" in competitive elections has attracted attention because it is the only Arab country with an independent election commission, the Supreme Elections Committee, and the only one on the Arabian Peninsula to allow women to participate as voters and as candidates. Despite the Yemeni Socialist Party's (YSP's) boycott, and concerns about violence in the weeks leading up to the election, election day was generally peaceful (although incidents of violence occurred in some areas) and smoothly-run, As a second election, it helped to consolidate a system of regular, relatively competitive elections in a part of the world where these are rare.
Like many countries holding a second election, Yemen focused on conducting the 1997 elections in a professional manner, so as to foster public confidence in the process. One of the Yemeni Supreme Elections Committee's (SEC's) greatest needs in this regard, and the focus of the International Foundation for Election System's (IFES) 1997 technical assistance project in Yemen, was training to ensure that the country's 39,000 pollworkers administered voting in a competent and impartial manner. In the 1993 election, training was uneven. Many pollworkers were not trained, causing confusion and procedural irregularities at a number of polling places.
In May 1996, the SEC made a formal request to the US Embassy in Sana'a for IFES' assistance in improving the 1997 training effort. In response to this request, IFES received funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through the Consortium for Election and Political Processes Strengthening ("CEPPS"), to improve the 1997 training effort. Additional funds were provided through Elections Canada/the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the United States Department of State's Economic Support Fund (ESF) (administered as CEPPS add-on funds).
During an October 1996 pre-election assessment mission to Yemen, IFES recommended that the SEC adopt a cascade system, through which IFES would train a core group of trainers, who would train officials in each of Yemen's 301 constituencies, who in turn would train the pollworkers. The SEC also requested IFES' assistance in producing written training materials, including detailed manuals for all pollworkers and a reminder checklist for every polling station. Written materials are the most appropriate training tools in Yemen, where video-cassette recorders, and regular electricity, are not always available.
During a January 1997 follow-up visit to Yemen, IFES/Yemen project manager Dr. Ronald Wolfe planned many of the organizational aspects of the IFES project, and prepared and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the SEC outlining the terms of IFES-SEC cooperation. The full IFES training team, led by Dr. Wolfe, and including international training specialists Barbara Croken, Gary Ouellet and Gladys Teske and Yemenis Mazen Luqman, Naguiba al-Mahdi and Hefdballah al-Gabali, began its in-country work in mid-March and remained in Yemen through late April 1997. Elections Canada generously provided funding for Mr. Ouellet and Ms. Teske, both Canadian election experts, and other key project expenses, thereby making the project financially viable and contributing essential technical expertise.
While in Yemen, the team worked closely with the SEC to prepare in Arabic, revise, print, and disseminate manuals for trainers and pollworkers and election day checklists for each polling station. The manuals, an innovation in Yemen, contained explanations of pollworkers' duties with reference to the election law and by-laws, samples of polling station forms, instructions for "what if' scenarios, and questions to test trainees' comprehension.
In early April, the team trained sixty-six core trainers, an enthusiastic and impressive group of professors, teachers and others selected by the SEC, at a three-day workshop in Sana'a. The sixty-six then spread out throughout Yemen to train 1,204 constituency-level officials. In the week before the election, these 1,204 replicated what they had learned in classes for the more than 39,000 pollworkers.
The IFES-Elections Canada team spent two weeks observing the second and third stages of training at locations throughout Yemen, and was gratified by the overall success of the effort. In debriefings, core trainers praised the logistical and substantive aspects of their training and expressed confidence that they had imparted their knowledge to the next level.
The best indication of the training's impact, however, was election day itself. Voting generally proceeded smoothly, with many fewer cases of overcrowding and disorganization than noted in the 1993 election. International observers stated that most pollworkers were committed to conducting their duties in a transparent manner, and well aware of election procedure and administered voting correctly, efficiently and fairly. In many cases, the manual was the most comprehensive resource available to resolve disputes over contentious aspects of the vote or the count. Because election workers were drawn from the different parties, tensions sometimes ran high at the polls. The use of the manual demonstrated how providing easy-to-use, authoritative written information to all can contribute to an orderly process.
Despite Yemen's challenging environment, which required a combination of careful preparation and constant flexibility from the IFES-Elections Canada team, the project met its fundamental objective: to help the SEC train all pollworkers to administer the vote in a neutral and uniform manner in accordance with the election law. Through the efforts of all who participated, and through a truly remarkable level of cooperation, latitude and enthusiasm on the part of the SEC, a new training method was introduced to Yemen. IFES hopes this method will take hold locally. The 1,270 Yemeni trainers involved in the project now constitute Yemen's first corps of experienced election trainers. They are a valuable, and indeed essential, resource for all future elections in Yemen.
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