Citizens: Voters or subjects [Archives:2007/1083/Opinion]

September 6 2007

By: Dr.Abdullah Al-Faqih
It is possible for anyone, who is permanently residing in a particular country and has an ID card and passport from this country, to enjoy all the basic rights and political, economic, social and cultural freedoms of a citizen. That individual may be merely a voter because his/her economic and social conditions don't qualify him/her to play any effective role or to exercise any right except for the suffrage (the right to vote in any election). Also, this individual may be a subject whose main job is to obey the rulers. So, how does the situation of a Yemeni citizen look like?

As far as citizenship is concerned, it can bee achieved by the type of constitution that ensures all the political, economic, social and cultural rights of citizens. This citizenship may also be achieved via adopting the type of political regime that allows citizens to enjoy their rights and expand their scope over time in a way coping with the most recent developments and changes.

Citizenship can be achieved when all citizens enjoy their basic rights as ensured by the constitution and concerned laws. However, for Yemenis it is very difficult to consider them citizens. At the social front, the unemployment rates are estimated at 40 percent of the work age population and 50 percent of the youths.

As a result of the high unemployment rates and low individual income, coupled with the unfair distribution of wealth, most of the Yemeni people – with minor differences – live below the poverty line. Illiteracy rates among Yemen's adult population, aged 15 years and over, exceed 50 percent, but when it comes to rural female population the illiteracy rates nears 80 percent. In light of the effective laws and the constitution concerned with political and civil rights, any Yemeni is eligible to be a voter only and not a citizen.

According to some facts, many of the Yemeni people are not eligible to be even voters, as the situation of voters necessitates constitutional guarantees, plus an enhancement of the political regime and exercise of political rights such as the right to participate in the elections both as a voter and a candidate. Additionally, the situation requires that citizens participate in faire and free elections. There should be organized systems based on balanced and equal relations and mutual respect between voters and authorities.

A third requirement of voters' situation is that all the citizens must enjoy equal rights and have equal access to protection without any discrimination under the effective laws. Citizens must have the right to form civil community organizations and political parties, as well as to obtain information and distribute it. They should also have the right to own auditory and visual media means and enjoy judicial protection from any attacks and human right abuses by the state's agencies or influential persons in the community.

Contemplating on the constitutional, legal and institutional environment of the political regime in Yemen, on the one hand, and the daily practices, on the other, it evidently appears that the different political and civic rights of Yemenis are absent or missing. The constitution and other various laws don't offer sufficient guarantees for protecting human rights. The political regime was designed in a way, thereby transferring the legal and constitutional texts, concerned with rights and freedoms, into merely ink on papers. Then, the daily practices came to confirm the absence of justice and equality.

The Yemeni citizen realizes that he is living in the age of equal citizenship, rights and freedoms after many constitutional and legal texts were replaced by fraudulent statements.

These changes usually take place in many institutions that lack partiality and attempt to amend the effective laws according to their wills.

It is this kind of institutions that deprives citizens of education, job opportunities, and safe and stable life.

The author is an activist, analyst, and professor of politics at Sana'a University. He welcomes sending comments to his email: [email protected]

Source: Al-Ahali Weekly.