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 Shi'ite 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 by a former classmate as a technocrat who shuns tribalism, Hadi was forced to flee the south in 1986 along with a number of military battalions after a group of military generals staged a coup there.

He is now tasked with steering a united Yemen through a dicey transitional period that will require him to introduce a new constitution and hold multi-party elections within two years. His task will be made easier, however, by the fact that he has the support of Saleh's sons and nephews, who continue to control an array of 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, he added.

Yahya Abu Ausba, assistant secretary general of the Yemen Socialist Party, said Hadi would have to act decisively to win the hearts and minds of the Yemeni people.

If Hadi wants to be remembered in history, he has to transit the Yemeni people into change by serving the goals of the revolution and face up to the powerful (men), he said, referring to Saleh's relatives and confidants who hold key positions in the power structure.