In Yemen, however, due in no part to hardships in translation, the principle in recent years has been "one spot, one vote." As in, the number of spots you can claim as yours equals the number of votes you get. Example: a soldier who has a place of birth, a place of residence (family home), and a place of other residence (military base) in theory gets 3 votes, according to Yemen's highly unregulated electoral system.
In a nutshell, this is why the parliamentary elections scheduled for today have been postponed for 2 years. Two years! At the demand of the opposition bloc! When was the last time you heard of an opposition party demanding that the current government maintain its grip on power for another two years?
The opposition coalition--a mishmash of die-hard pan-Arabists, Islamists and socialists which calls itself the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)--threatened to boycott the elections if the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) party of President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not institute electoral reforms to safeguard a free and transparent vote. The EU threatened to pull its election monitors if the JMP carried out its boycott. The GPC decided to postpone the polls to save face, and the JMP declared it would take two years of hard negotiations before Yemen would be ready to turn the corner of democratization.
Not on the ballot: Whether the old city of Sana'a is the most beautiful in the world. (National Geographic Photo)
What's two more years to the current prez? Mr. Saleh has been at the helm for 31 years: from 1978-1990 as president of the Yemen Arab Republic (a.k.a. North Yemen); and from 1990-present as president of the united Republic of Yemen. Along the way, he's won a slew of dubious elections with very one-sided results.
It's not just the "one spot, one vote" hijinx that rendered Yemen ill-prepared for a free vote today. Negotiations between the JMP and the GPC have included the former's proposals for (and the latter's resistance to) a non-partisan or bipartisan election commission, a system of proportional representation that preferences policies and platforms over demagoguery, and security measures to ensure unfettered access to the polls for every Yemeni citizen.
Come to think of it, maybe two years isn't such a far-fetched estimate. Heck, even Canada could use some of these reforms.