SAN`A, Yemen – Yemeni opposition parties threatened Friday to call a massive street protest to dispute partial election results that show their presidential candidate losing by a wider margin than expected.
The threat came amid more allegations of fraud in Wednesday's elections, which pitted incumbent President Ali Abdullah Saleh against his most serious challenger since he came to power in 1978 — former oil executive Faisal bin Shamlan.
Late Thursday, elections commission spokesman Abdu al-Janadi said Saleh had so far won 3.4 million votes, compared with just 880,000 for bin Shamlan out of roughly 5 million cast. The partial results were based on votes counted from 17,000 of the 27,000 total ballot boxes.
Election results are expected by Saturday, but it is not clear whether a formal announcement will come in view of the disputes.
"We want to prove that the government has lied and committed fraud," opposition spokesman Ali al-Sarari told The Associated Press. "Our supporters count in the millions and not the thousands."
Muhammad Qahtan, another opposition spokesman, said the group would call for a protest to show the world "how numerous we are." He did not give a date for the demonstration.
"According to our count, we have at least 40 percent of the vote," he told the AP. "The elections committee is seeking to carry out an order from the presidential palace to give the president 80 percent of the vote."
"We will go to the street peacefully without carrying arms. We will only carry our voices," he added. "Our goal is to prevent a monopoly of the presidency by peaceful and legal means."
An editorial in the state-run Al-Thawrah daily, meanwhile, lashed out at "those who are skeptical of" the process, saying they lack understanding of what democracy means.
"There's no benefit in running away from the truth by raising doubts over the seriousness and fairness of the democratic process the country has seen," it said. "Everyone has to accept the results, no matter what they are."
The European Union Election Observation Mission, in a preliminary report, called the elections "an open and genuine contest," but said there were a number of "important shortcomings," including instances of voter intimidation, underage voting and breaches of ballot secrecy.
The EU mission, which has watched the election process since Aug. 12, has 119 observers deployed across Yemen. It said of 1,040 polling stations visited on election day, 19 percent had breaches of vote secrecy and 13 percent had instances of illegal assistance of voters. Clearly underage voters were seen casting ballots in 7 percent of the facilities, the report said.
"EU observers saw intimidation outside 6 percent of polling centers and, contrary to the law, active campaigning by the GPC (ruling party) was seen to take place at almost one-third of polling centers," the report said. "There were isolated observations of ballot-stuffing and reports of persons confiscating ballot boxes."
Al-Sarari said there are still 10,000 boxes that have not been counted "because the ruling party believes they're in our favor."
Al-Janadi said the counting had been halted at scores of polling stations because of fighting between the candidates' supporters. At least eight people were killed in scattered bouts of violence on Wednesday.
In five polling stations in southern Yemen, he said candidates had stormed in and taken ballot boxes, though he did not identify their parties. He said several other boxes had been burned.
The vote is a major test for Saleh's promises of democratic reform in Yemen, coming amid widespread complaints of corruption and the failure to spread new oil money in a country where the average income is just $600 a year.
Saleh has ruled since 1978, first as president of North Yemen and then as head of the unified state after the May 1990 merger of the north and south. He won elections in 1999 with 96.2 percent of the vote, but faced only a former member of his ruling party running as an independent.
Bin Shamlan ran refineries in South Yemen during the 1970s and was an executive for a Saudi oil company in London. He served as minister of infrastructure and minister of oil in the government of South Yemen. He resigned from parliament in 1995 to protest government corruption.