Brig. Yahya Al-Mutawakil: “The Consultative Council must be involved in law making.” [Archives:1998/35/Interview]

August 31 1998

Brigadier Yahya Mohammed Al-Mutawakil, Assistant Secretary General of the ruling People’s General Congress (PGC) and a member of the Consultative Council, is a well-known name among the people of Yemen. He was among the few army officers who have taken part in the September 26th Revolution. Since then, he has served in many capacities.
He was a member of the Command Council, the highest body in the land in the mid-1970s. He was several times minister, governor, ambassador and held many other senior posts during his 35 years of service.
Today, he is seen as among the few wise men of the nation. People look up to them in search of solutions to the many problems facing Yemen. The soft-spoken Yahia, 56, is also a highly cultured person. He appreciates fine arts, speaks English and Russian fluently, and a little bit of French and Spanish.
Mohammed Bin Sallam and Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times talked to Brig Al-Mutawakil about various crucial issues concerning the country’s political future. They filed the following excerpts:
Q: This week, the PGC celebrate its 16th anniversary. How do you assess its performance?
A: Such an assessment can only be done by polling the general public. It is only the people that can properly evaluate the PGC’s performance of the last 16 years.
It was a period rich with change and achievement. Before those 16 years, the country was in political ruin. The main political players before the PGC did not allow other players. That is why the country was repeatedly torn between a number of conflicting ideologies.
Although the constitution banned the formation of political parties, there were movements representing Arab nationalists, Islamists, socialists, communists, etc. Each one of these political tendencies was also reflected on the ruling authority, which became an arena of political struggle.
So the PGC was created in response to a very urgent need for an umbrella group or a general ideological framework that can bring these various forces together. It was the outcome of a long period of political upheaval, extending from 1962 to 1982. The idea was pondered by Yemen’s successive leaders: Marshal Al-Sallal, Qadhi Al-Iryani, and Presidents Al-Hamdi and Al-Ghashmi.
Q: So who takes credit for creating the PGC?
A: President Ali Abdullah Saleh deserves the accolades in that respect. He responded well to the country’s need for an all-encompassing political umbrella. A ” dialogue committee” was formed first, which became the PGC’s nucleus. The dialogue was among people of greatly varying political affiliations and tendencies, both in authority and outside it.
The dialogue resulted in a historical national document that still represents the thoughts and ideologies of the representatives of the people. On the basis of this document, the PGC was formed. It still represents the PGC’s line of action. The PGC’s agenda is based on Islamic values, Yemen’s rich history and the people’s longing to modernization and a bright future.
Q: What are the PGC’s most notable achievements?
A: The most important achievement is formulating the necessary legislation to regulate political party activity in Yemen. Then came the development programs, which made a great difference to the people from the previous period.
Another remarkable accomplishment is opening Yemen up to the outside world. Before the PGC, Yemen’s relations with the US and the West were conducted through a third party such as Egypt, the former Soviet Union, or Saudi Arabia. The country did not really have a recognized international presence.
The PGC is very proud that it has been able to put Yemen firmly on the world map of international politics. Sanaa became like any other Arab capital, dealing directly with the outside world without the intervention of any patron state.
Crowning all the previous accomplishments, the PGC efficiently and quite responsibly achieved and protected the much cherished unification of the country. Unity was complimented with democratization and political pluralism.
The PGC won a majority in the 1993 elections and was able to deal effectively with the political crisis that followed and culminated in the war against secession in 1994. Three years later in 1997, it won the general election with a landslide victory.
Q: Was all the last 16 years full of successes?
A: There is no doubt that there was a fair share of problems and setbacks. One of the problems is that difference in opinion and outlook still exists within the PGC. But we are able to overcome such obstacles in a spirit of democracy that permeates this organization. With meaningful and fruitful dialogue, all problems are surmountable. While the PGC preserved its unity, other political parties just split up into smaller entities.
Other problems facing the PGC are of an economic nature. Economic and administrative reforms suffered quite a setback after the Gulf war. Unification also left the country with huge debts. At that time, the PGC’s ruling coalition partners – Islah and the Yemen Socialist Party – did not fully commit themselves to reform. When the PGC became the sole ruling party, it found itself in the position of having to take a very hard decision by starting the implementation of a comprehensive reform program. This has reflected negatively on the PGC, costing it some of its popularity. It is a matter of time before we see the fruits of the reform program.
Q: There are now some efforts to restructure the PGC from within. What are the major changes expected to be introduced?
A: The PGC leadership is fully aware that, following 16 years, there are some groups within the organization that have small roles incompatible with their huge size. There is a small minority in the PGC that does not really believe in our National Charter (Constitution of the Party) or the true spirit of the organization.
It is inevitable that as we go into the next centure with a renewed PGC. So a plan is formulated to rebuild the PGC’s organizational structure. This plan consists of three major steps: making sure of the size and base of PGC rank and file; re-organizing PGC’s structures; and attracting new members who will assist in bringing about the needed changes. About 30% of the restructuring program has already been implemented. We are about to go into the second phase of the process, which will conclude by the end of this year. The third phase will be launched at the beginning of 1999.
A new membership card will also be issued, as some members of other parties are still holding PGC cards. There will be PGC internal elections at the grass-roots and middle levels, leading ultimately to the PGC’s sixth congress next year when a new leadership will be elected.
Q: IWhat kind of policy changes should we expect?
A: The PGC does not intend to change its main policies. But we are working to develop them and adapt them to the new local and world changes. The PGC’s basic course is set by the National Charter. There is no doubt, however, that we react to developments around us.
There will be much emphasis on strengthening democracy, supporting NGOs and expanding cultural activities. During the past few months, for example, a special branch for young people was established within the PGC. Women’s role is already strongly present within the organization. We hope that the PGC will become representative of all segments of society.
Q: Let’s now move to another domain of your activities – the Consultative Council. How serious are the current attempts to put this organ within a new constitutional framework?
A: The process to develop the Consultative Council is being executed by a team from within led by Mr. Abdulaziz Abdulghani and Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf. They aim to turn this body into an active instrument of change.
The legislative authority is not only the parliament’s domain. In all democratic countries, an “upper house” is also involved. The aim behind this is not only the distribution of power, but also reviewing and endorsing legislations, which must not be solely done by a single organ. The upper house usually consists of prominent and experienced people in society, opinion makers, thinkers, etc. The active participation of these people in law making will make such legislation all the more positive and effective.
So we are working now to institute a constitutional amendment making the Consultative Council a more active and efficient instrument of law making.
The Consultative Council offers a great potential, given the caliber of people in it. The Council’s role should not really be limited to just giving advice and consultation. Otherwise, there is no real use of spending so much of the tax-payer’s money on it. The Consultative Council must have a constitutional function enabling it to effectively take part in legislation. This is now our main task at the Council.
(Yemen Times note: Yahia Al-Mutawakkil is actually the chairman of a sub-committee which is entrusted with the job of presenting a draft proposal for this purpose.)
Q: You had proposed to conduct a study of a vision of Yemen in the year 2010. How far has this document come?
A: In fact, this is still a mere idea being toyed with. The state as a whole must adopt a strategy taking Yemen to the year 2020. Considering Yemen’s economic, social and security problems, it is very crucial that such a strategy be formulated. We at the Consultative Council have already discussed this matter, which cannot really be done by one organ. It must be discussed and formulated by all relevant organs, legislative and executive. Not only that, but international expertise and the private sector must also be brought into the picture.