Analysis: Steering the country through transition likely to be a tricky task

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Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is being thrust into the spotlight as Yemen’s next president, yet little is known about a man who has languished in the shadow of the Arabian Peninsula’s iron ruler of the past 30 years.

A former army general, Hadi is the only candidate standing to replace Ali Abdullah Saleh, guaranteeing that he’ll take the helm of a chaotic nation facing multiple challenges: a collapsing economy, a growing threat from al-Qaeda, rising secessionist sentiment in the south, and Houthi Shiite Muslim rebels in the north.

“I am going to lead one of the most difficult and complicated stages that Yemen has ever faced,” he conceded in a speech earlier this month.

“The roads are blocked, the oil pipelines are shut down, the living conditions are hard, business activity and factories are stalled.”

Despite hailing from the southern province of Abyan, Hadi stuck by Saleh during the 1994 civil war between North and South Yemen – formerly a separate, socialist republic before union with Saleh’s north in 1990.

Described as a technocrat who shuns tribalism, Hadi fled the south in 1986 along with several battalions after a group of generals staged a coup.

He now must steer Yemen through a transitional period that requires him to introduce a new constitution and hold multi-party elections within two years. His task will be made easier by the fact that he has the support of Saleh’s sons and nephews, who control several military and security units, as well as the consent of rival generals and the opposition.

But the father of five will have to move away from Saleh’s legacy without alienating the outgoing president’s supporters, especially in the armed forces.

“Saleh’s shadow over the political system is heavy,” Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a Sanaa-based political analyst, said. “What gives Hadi leverage is that he is not Saleh.”