As the Yemeni presidential elections near:The challenge gets tougher for the PGC [Archives:2006/982/Opinion]

September 18 2006

The seemingly frantic moves by the ruling party, the People's General Congress, to make sure that the opposition candidates of the Joint-Meeting Coalition of Opposition Parties (Faisal Bin Shamlan) and the other independent candidates not to present a threat to the incumbent President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, are revealing that we could indeed have an interesting outcome to look forward to on September 20, 2006. Notwithstanding the awesome machinery that has been geared up to support the campaign of the PGC candidate, the opposition parties and the independents (especially the outspoken and eloquent Fathi Al-Azab) are exerting considerable effort to capture as many votes as possible and to translate the “peaceful transfer of authority” into non-fiction. This is indeed a robust period of Yemen's modern history and perhaps a meaningful one as well, as all involved realize that there is considerable interest within the voters as can be judged by the large crowds all the candidates are gathering throughout the governorates of the Republic. One hopes that this interest could be transformed into a genuine useful application of voting rights, by which the voters will start to think of issues rather than personalities or wherewithal in deciding their choices for the highest position in government. The fact is that even the PGC is beginning to realize that the path to assuring success for their incumbent President may have its dangerous curves here and there and the opposition and the independents are doing all they can, with their comparatively meager means to make the path a very difficult one. One wonders, if the opposing candidates had anywhere near the means at the disposal of the PGC candidate, then surely the outcome would have been beyond the expectations of the PGC, as well as the opposition parties behind the opposing candidates. One can detect from the unusually aggressive efforts of the PGC that the leadership in the latter are beginning to have some worries that their hold on the electorate can not be certain, even with all the hard campaigning and political muscle-twisting that the PGC machine can exert. The turnouts achieved by the opposing candidates are noticeable and the opposition candidates are trying to have the electorate really pay attention to the issues of concern: corruption, the poor security situation, the poor economy, poor social services, etc. Not only that, the opposition candidates are not reluctant to point out to the voters that the ruling party bears considerable responsibility for the current conditions of the country. Moreover, both the opposition parties and candidates as well as the PGC are making the voters realize that their votes will indeed have a bearing on who becomes the next President, so the voters should really be careful and not “make a mistake” of giving their votes to the wrong choice.

For all its worth and no matter what the outcome of the elections will be, this election will be a milestone in the development of democratic practice in Yemen, as at last the people do have some thinking to do in deciding for whom to cast their vote. This is no longer a referendum but a choice between different kinds of leadership, each promising to deliver what conforms to the people's aspirations. In this case, the opposition candidates are aided by the fact that they have not had any direct influence or responsibility over the existing state of affairs and they are hoping to convince the voters that it is indeed time for a change for the better. They proclaim that the PGC has had sufficient time to prove its genuine sincerity and ability in governing and the track record is not helpful to the PGC in this respect. Moreover, with corruption becoming an open issue raised by all the candidates, the PGC promise of a better future is not helped by the lack of genuine effort to root out corruption in the past. This does not mean that the PGC is facing eminent defeat. However, as the campaigns get more heated up and the voters begin to have a sense of the value of their vote, the ordeal could represent the strongest challenge faced by the PGC yet in maintaining a solid hold on the reigns of government. One would think that the Islah Party will do all it can to try to weaken that hold, since that hold was considerably arrived at thanks to the former coziness that existed between the PGC and the Islah, which now seems to be a matter that prevailed “once upon a time” in the past and has come to an end. As long as things do not get out of hand, this observer is inclined to believe that the experience will be worth it for Yemen in the long run.

Hassan Al-Haifi has been a Yemeni political economist and journalist for more than 20 years.