SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's election commission said Friday that 65 percent of registered voters in the country cast their ballot for Vice President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi in this week's single-candidate presidential election aimed at bringing an end to months of political turmoil.
The vote, part of a U.S.-backed agreement to ease out of office longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh after almost a year of popular protests, made the Yemeni ruler the fourth leader to be pushed from power in the Arab Spring uprisings that erupted early last year. Saleh is the first of the leaders, however, to leave office in an internationally negotiated exit.
Election Commission chief Mohammed al-Hakimi said Friday that 6.6 million votes out of a potential 10.2 million went to Hadi, who is expected to be sworn in Saturday. More than 99 percent of the 6.6 million votes cast were for Hadi. The remaining 25,000 ballots cast were invalid. The only option on the ballot was to vote "yes" for Hadi.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the election "a positive step forward" and said "it speaks to the fact that Yemenis are ready to move on to their future."
The unexpectedly large turnout for the vote gives Hadi a strong popular mandate to tackle Yemen's myriad problems, which include a growing threat from al-Qaida militants, widespread poverty and a southern secessionist movement.
After the results from Tuesday's vote were announced, fireworks burst over the capital, Sanaa, in a brief celebration in a city that has been torn by strife.
Hadi will take over after months of uncertainty over whether Saleh would step down in the face of the mass protests that plunged the nation into a political crisis.
But the transitional period promises to be a bumpy one, and Hadi faces a slew of challenges. He has to restructure powerful security forces packed with Saleh loyalists, launch a national dialogue that would include members of the southern secessionist movement, and appease a restless religious minority in the north as well as disparate opposition groups in the heartland.
Many fear Saleh, who has cast a large web of tribal and family relations during his three decades of rule, may still try to pull the strings during the transitional period until a new constitution is written.
Government officials and lawmakers said Hadi is expected be sworn in before parliament on Saturday, earlier than expected. They were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the press.
It is an indication that Yemen's new political powers are eager to officially settle Hadi in office, even before the expected return of Saleh from treatment in the U.S.
Saleh arrived home in Yemen late Friday, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said. He had spent weeks in the United States for further treatment after an attack on his palace last June that left him badly burned.
Saleh had pledged to return to Yemen for his successor's inauguration. His party said on its website that Saleh would arrive in Sanaa Monday to a large popular reception.
Saleh is the fourth Arab leader swept from power by the Arab Spring. Tunisia convicted in absentia former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of corruption after he fled the country last year. He remains in Saudi Arabia in exile. Egypt is trying ousted leader Hosni Mubarak for his alleged role in killing protesters after he stepped out of office last year handing over to a military council. And rebel fighters captured and killed Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi last October.