Are We Willing to Democratize? [Archives:1999/31/Focus]

August 2 1999

This is an OPINION page.  
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!  
By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Managing Editor, Yemen Times
The action of the parliament with regard to the no confidence motion against the opposition’s nominee Mr. Ali Saleh Obad was actually a great shock to all concerned. It clouded the horizons and created ripples in the minds of political analysts who were totally staggered and openly expressed their resentment and unhappiness with this action. They believe that the ensuing presidential elections are now pointless and are deprived of free and fair competition in the true sense of the term. Rather, it is an action against the Article 5 of the Yemeni Constitution which dictates that the political system is based on political plurality for effecting peaceful exchange of authority. But, unless a fair-play and healthy competition is to take place, political plurality can not exist and thus democracy becomes just a mere shallow slogan without any real meaning. The requirement of the obligatory recommendation of 10% of the members present is at any rate irrational since it doesn’t mean anything decisive or meaningful in a fair competition. Moreover, it stipulates that all the candidates should have the ratification of the parliament, a practice not found in any democratic country of the world. 
The presidency is supposed to be open to all who are eligible under the provisions of the Constitution. Sometimes a presidential nominee might be dependent, but popular and has a chance to compete strongly. Therefore, the parliament might not recommend him because he might compete the nominee of the ruling party. This means that the rights of some people are confiscated which is entirely against the spirit of the Constitution. Suppose either Dr. Faraj bin Ghanem or Dr. Yassin Saeed Noman accepted to be the nominee of the opposition. Then, was the parliament going to behave in the same way as it did with Ali Saleh Obad? Or was it a matter of finishing a showdown with Mr. Obad. Some might claim that the parliament recommended Mr. Najeeb Qahtan Al-Shabi as an independent nominee. But, who can not understand the game? He is a member of the permanent committee of the PGC as well as one of its representatives in the parliament and he hasn’t yet announced his resignation from the membership of the party. So, what does this mean? Two members of the same party are competing against each other. How come? Therefore, it has become very clear to everyone that Mr. Najeeb is just what we can call a mere dummy or puppet candidate, which in practical terms means that there is only one candidate left in the fray.
In the final analysis, the rejection of the opposition’s nominee is seen by many observers as an attempt by the ruling party to throttle the infant democratic process in Yemen. In fact, it has been nipped in the bud, particularly in view of the fact that it is the first presidential elections which should have been used to stabilize democratic processes in the country. This is because no real elections can take place without real healthy competition.
Of course, the nomination of Mr. Saleh Obad by the opposition was not quite convincing and successful , for he is not the fittest man to effectively voice the will and safeguard the interests of the whole rank and file. He was, of course, not expected to win the elections. However, he could have been able to make the elections a little bit competitive and meaningful and would have lent a credibility to the whole exercise. But, what happened actually means that the political arena has become virtually a one-man domain as the opposition’s nominee was kicked out of the ring. Some observers think that the government and People’s General Congress (PGC) have failed to qualify at the acid test of democracy and have proved that they are not in sound position to compete against any strong challenger, though the PGC has lately confirmed in its sixth General Conference that the affiliation to it is increasing and that its members swelled to over 2 million. Therefore, it doesn’t stand to reason why the PGC should feel scared to compete against the opposition’s nominee.
More importantly, the recommendation of president Saleh and and Mr. Najeeb Al-Shabi has made the elections a myth and turned them into a mere referendum just like what usually happens in Syria and Egypt. In fact, that has marked the end of the elections before they have started.
Yemen has recently been the seat of the Emerging Democracies Forum, an important event in the history of the emerging democracies. The event was a good pointer of the democratic growth in Yemen. We should all be aware of the fact that the world is keenly watching what is happening in Yemen with a lot of interest and concern. But now, ironically the first experience of the presidential elections has been aborted. So, how will the world view it? These elections should not have ruled out the opposition’s candidate since it was going to set a very healthy precedent by way of strengthening the democratic norms and values in the country. Do we want to show that we are not qualitatively superior to some other Arab countries which are incapable of embracing democratic institutions?
The opposition rightly condemned the whole scenario, looking down upon it as a theatrical farce, a confiscation of the rights of the opposition to take part in the ensuing presidential elections and a usurpation of the people’s freedom of choice.
Some legal observers also consider the parliament’s recommendation of Mr. Najeeb Al-Shabi, the son of the first president of the former South of Yemen Republic, as a good omen meant to prepare the Yemeni people for the possible nomination of the son of the president Saleh for the forthcoming elections.
Now, the opposition’s nominee is gone. In the general public estimation, these elections are no more meaningful and valuable as it will not yield anything substantial in the political horizon of Yemen. Rather, they will be a source of frittering valuable resources of the country without anything tangible in return. This sizable misinvestment can better be used in launching essential developmental projects the society badly needs.
The most important thing to be done now is that the Article 107 of the Constitution regarding the existing practice of 10% members present and voting has to be scrapped and I believe president Saleh will be able to do that so as to prove to the world that we are willing to democratize. Let’s hope the justice prevails and the democratic norms are vindicated.