Attempting to walk a rough road [Archives:2006/951/Opinion]

June 1 2006

By: Ali Al-Sarari
In an address before her supporters, Mahfoudha Hassan Al-Se'afaf reviewed a list of demands she promised to fulfill if she won the election. Al-Se'afaf stated to the public, “We may fail, but we have to try.”

Opposition and independent candidates who stood in April 2003's most recent parliamentary elections behaved in a manner similar to Al-Se'afaf. Perceiving its difficulties and risks, all made the attempt but weren't surprised by their poor results after vote counts. Al-Se'afaf's attempt wasn't normal and any difficulties or risks associated with it were unfamiliar. When anyone recollects information relating to her attempt, he or she will be convinced that it was more complicated, unique and exciting.

Women's representation in the 301-seat Parliament is confined to a single woman, who came from the most urban city of Aden via vote fraud by the General People's Congress (GPC) at the expense of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) candidate. When international reports opposed her illegal win, the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER) unashamedly provided evidence that Inas Sultan is the sole woman and therefore, shouldn't be denied a Parliament post.

Contrary to such an attempt to help a woman win via vote fraud in a constituency mostly inhabited by educated individuals believed to have faith in women's rights and support their political participation, Al-Se'afaf's attempt as an independent candidate in Al-Mahwit's constituency No. 236, which mostly is populated by tribesmen, came from outside the official political game. Also, her attempt was made in an atmosphere dominated by traditions that marginalize women, oppress them and deny them any right to participate in political life.

Al-Se'afaf's attempt came from outside the official political game which abides by a hollow form of democracy. When game players decided to have Sultan win, they pretended before donors that the government was interested in women's participation. This was the first reason. Secondly, they did so because the constituency's winner was a YSP candidate. The third reason was that none of the GPC's male members nominated themselves in the elections.

For Al-Se'afaf, the matter totally was different, since the public selected her to compete against the ruling party candidate, which is based on oppression, as well as criterion of selecting influential tribesmen to ensure state control of their areas in return for personal interests. Such tribesmen gain illegal interests via exploiting public and private property and denying citizens their right to free choice. They win elections only by vote fraud and use of power against their competitors.

Al-Se'afaf waited a long time for the public to select a candidate to run against the ruling party's nominee, but nothing happened. As the election drew nearer and no independent candidate applied, she hurriedly submitted her documents and nominated herself a few minutes before the registration period ended. That day's sun set with a political and social battle erupting in Melhan district, involving those from different classes headed by a slim woman assuming the duty to lead her fellow local citizens. Al-Se'afaf assumed the duty to fulfill the expectations and hopes of angry locals, as well as organize them, direct them to break the hurdles restricting their movement and refusing to meet their demands. She nominated herself to put an end to illusion and outdated thoughts in the minds of men and liberate them under her leadership.

What often is said about talented leaders in different human experiences can be said about Al-Se'afaf. Her attempt left an example of well-defined goals, public awareness of supporters under female leadership, self-sacrifice for the nation's sake, integrity and dignity. Removing her veil before people was the first thing Al-Se'afaf did to prove to her fellow locals that women can lead their communities.

Male and female voters in constituency No. 236 were convinced that Al-Se'afaf would be in charge of their issues, since she had no personal interests likely to contradict her expected performance. She appeared as a leader granting trust and confidence to volunteers to join their fair battle. Visited by their female candidate, voters everywhere throughout the aforementioned constituency chanted her name, organized motorcades for her outings and promised to vote for her.

Rough roads in a rural constituency with a population scattered on mountain peaks were less risky than the rough policy placing Al-Se'afaf on the opposite side of the authority. Such policy waged wars on citizens and used various means of oppression against them, but their will was in favor of Al-Se'afaf. Thus, oppressive authorities and influential figures, who merely gain interests via illegal means, had no alternative but to employ fraud of voting results and deprive Al-Se'afaf of representing her locals and publicizing their issues and sufferings in Parliament.

All attempts at pressure failed to hinder Al-Se'afaf's determination, nor could they shake her self-confidence or the fair path she chose to walk, despite the fact that she experienced an assassination attempt. “Following the assassination attempt, I used to exert double effort to stand to my feet while meeting my supporters or opponents. Sometimes, I used to take painkillers in order not to appear weak before people,” Al-Se'afaf recalled.

Al-Se'afaf's rivals won parliamentary elections by force, but the leading woman still has a strong determination to stand in upcoming local elections, never having submitted to what happened. She's now ready to make another attempt with the hope of overcoming any rough roads until her ambitions and her supporter's will are achieved.

Ali Al-Sarari is a Yemeni Journalist and a well-known politician. He is the head of the information department at the Yemeni Socialist Party.