The YAR was divided into eleven governorates ( muhafazat ), each headed by a governor. Each governorate contained a varying number of sectors ( nawahi ). Traditional divisions still extant included the uzlah, a group of villages ( qura ) of people who belong to the same tribe, headed by a sheikh; and the mahall, a group of houses administratively subordinate to a village. The central government retained ultimate authority over local officials, although certain administrative sanctions were granted to traditional local rulers.
In an effort to de-emphasize older loyalties and associations, the PDRY government created a highly centralized state and divided the country into six governorates, all closely controlled by the central authorities. Each had an appointed governor, and each was divided into districts, which were also administered by appointed officials.
The unified government established 17 governorates, subdivided into districts. In the countryside, especially in the north and east, tribal authority is often stronger than formal government institutions. There are currently 20 governorates, and 326 district municipalities. The government has taken steps to implement decentralization. Municipal elections were held for the first time in February 2001. Authority over local planning, development, and administration is consolidated in municipal councils. The February elections included 26,832 candidates for 6,614 district municipal council seats and over 2,500 candidates for 418 provincial council seats. Those elected are to serve a 2-year transitional term.