Challenges and tasks of the upcoming elections [Archives:2006/963/Opinion]

July 13 2006

By: Abdulbari Taher
While presenting his nomination to Parliament recently, President Ali Abdullah Saleh stated to the media, according to official newspaper Al-Thawra, “I have responded to the call of the millions of the people who took to the streets in governorate provincial capitals and public squares because they believed that there was an alarm bell and beasts baring their teeth, wanting to prey upon the revolution, the republic, unity and democracy. Those masses took to the streets spontaneously, without being urged by others and without a program set beforehand and they have compelled me to go back on my decision that I had made before.”

The President here defines the great tasks waiting for him as “protection of the revolution and the republic, protection of unity, protection of the homeland against extremism and terrorism and protection of the revolution, the unity and the republic against advocates of the imamate whose voices rise from time to time in the governorate of Saada with their supporters in some governorate provincial capitals.”

The President pointed out there is a file for comprehensive development, industrial and agricultural, and another file for generating electric power to meet the increasing need, including the generation of nuclear power, indicating that there have been talks with American and Canadian companies. The President adds to the awaiting tasks the use of services projects' infrastructure, fighting poverty, ending unemployment, completing the building of the military and security establishment and protection of security and stability, confirming the scope of the election platform of the President of the Republic, (Al-Thawra newspaper, Wednesday 5 July, issue No. 15211). By announcing his nomination himself, the President may have wanted to create a general accord, replicating the elections of 1999.

The opposition has done well by nominating Faisal Bin Shamlan. Democracy's essence, or in an important part of it, is elections and free and democratic competition. If conditions of honesty and freedom are provided, these elections would be a beginning for Yemen's proceeding in the right direction, regardless of who the winner is. The political opposition has asked to stick to articles of its agreement with President Saleh on clearing voter register that includes more than half of the population, and ensuring the neutrality of the army, security, media, and public property and services.

The 1994 war inflicted heavy damage on the social fabric, harmony and national unity as it restored the formulation of governance by the power of conquer and defeat and overthrew the peaceful unity and building of democracy. Democracy and competitive elections are primary and important steps on the road of return to recognizing the electorate's will and acceptance of their choice, healing the wounds, reinstating trust and building the modern state which is impossible to achieve with tribal spears or army tanks.

We understand that democracy is not just a ballot box. It is rather integrated system beginning with an honest and independent judiciary that is also efficient and just, modernity of the state and society and above all, the expansion of general freedoms and respect of human rights, all of which are now absent.

The free and democratic competition will be a difficult test of the extent of the seriousness and desire of President Saleh to fully establish the democracy for which President Saleh and his partner Ali Salem Al-Biedh laid the first foundations in 1992. Undoubtedly, the upcoming elections will also be an opportunity for the political opposition and a proof of its capability of going to the street and representing the will of the masses that are eager for freedom, dignity and justice.

The opposition has come forward with a document for comprehensive political reform. It is an important document in a country where the ruler is still holding the keys of the three powers and his ruling party monopolizes the army, security, media, public services and public property.

The sure thing is that the mood of the people in 1999 is to a greatly different to that of 2006. Also, candidate Bin Shamlan is presented and supported by the parties of opposition, the second part in government equation, or thus it should be. In the elections of 1999, the President competed against himself because his competitor was member of the President's party and was calling for his election. It is well known that Shamlan is an enemy of the state of corruption and an expert in economic affairs. During his work in the Parliament and Ministry of Oil he presented a good example of honesty.

Democracy does not mean elections alone. Nevertheless, in a country such as Yemen elections acquire great importance. Yemen is an illiterate country dominated by ignorance. It is heavily armed and its governance has been founded on force and superiority for long periods. Its system and society cannot be modernized without the state of modern age characteristics, a state of law and order, which in turn could not be built without the condition of democracy into which it has been unable to enter, until now.

During the late barren years the country of Yemen as a state has been heading towards failure and as a society it has been threatened by famine, poverty, disintegration and deterioration. This must be a focal point for the candidates' election platforms and the extent of the truthfulness of his commitment to what he promises. Can the opposition and civil society organizations adopt the issue of the candidate's “quittance” as it is done in all democracies in the world? Moreover, the promise of reform, freedom and democracy begins from immediate obligation of not recruiting the state and its apparatus in the battle of elections, considering it as property of the party or the leader. Would the upcoming presidential and local elections be a beginning of deliverance from corruption and bilateral despotism that threaten the entire Yemeni entity as a state and society? We understand the difficulty of the Arab ruler stepping down from his position of power voluntarily or by his choice. He is permanent but the ambition of the Arab and Yemeni people is more than what the ruler thinks.

Abdulbari Taher is a Yemeni Journalist and the former chairman of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate.