Common Sense Where to From Here? [Archives:1999/39/Focus]

September 27 1999

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
“Why did you not vote? This was the historic moment and anyone who believes in democracy would surely not forget to take part in the first direct elections for the President of the Republic of Yemen. So what happened to you Saleh?” Ahmed was asking his long-time friend and neighbor as they were on their way to the Grand Mosque of Rawdha for the Friday prayers.
As he coughed to confirm his forthcoming reply Saleh said: “For seven days now I have been in bed doing nothing but coughing sneezing and sweating my head off trying to kick this miserable cold, or what ever it is away. In fact, the only reason I am going out of the house n, is to ask the Lord, Al-Mighty for the relief I need from this flu, just so I can tend to my work and other needs.” A sneeze just came in time to add emphasis to his response. He continued: “I had really intended to take p-art in the voting, just as you said, no one should not be on record for having taking advantage of the First Presidential Elections, no matter how remote they seem from the elections most people would have in mind. I am glad that you did not fail to take part in the elections. Tell me how did the turnout look?”
Ahmed responded: “Well, I went at mid-day and it seemed that most people had gone early to cast their votes. There were just a handful of people trying to figure which room they should be voting in, as they seemed to have forgotten what letter their names start with. Two others were not sure if they had brought their voting registration cards in, as they looked through their pockets finding that they were, in fact, not with them. So they trekked out again, without doing anything. I do not know if they ever came back later to cast their votes, as it was fast approaching the qat session hour then.”Saleh came back to reassure his friend of his true intentions: “I had, in fact, I had dug out my voter registration card from the dust, since it has not been used since 1997. But there was no way I could come out yesterday with this horrible cold on me. For sure, had I gone to vote, people who had come to vote would have been driven away by my coughing and sneezing and the voter turnout would be even less than the low turnout that showed up. Here comes our neighbor Hameed to give us another idea of how it looked at the polling station yesterday. What do you say, Hameed how was it yesterday, at the polling station, since you registered at another district?”Hameed arrived next to the two greeting them with the usual Friday greetings and pointing his hand to the refreshment stand for some juice before going into the Grand Mosque which was about two hundred meters away: “Well, my district is a part of Sana’a City and stretches from the south of the City of Sana’a to the Airport. I could never figure out how Rawdha could not be just one voting district and literally had to be split into two districts. Here we are literally next door neighbors, but having to belong to two different districts. In any case I went early and there were sufficient lines there for the television cameras to go home with something. It is really hard to determine how they voted, as nobody had any idea that they should really vote for. Quite a few wanted to show that they were going to vote different from the majority of the voters just to see if their opposition vote would show up. I am really surprised by the interest shown by people, in wanting to see if their vote was going to be counted at all.””All-right Hameed, what are you having? For Saleh, there can be nothing better than a double strength Lemon Juice there and a pack of tissues”, he Ahmed was speaking and ordering at the same time, tuning his face to the refreshment stand owner as he handed the last tissue he had to Saleh, who dished out a powerful sneeze that released two dozen ‘God bless-yous” from all the passers-by and the people gathering at the refreshment stand, as he took the tissue from his friend.
Hameed answered: “A carrot juice will do fine for me, especially as you are treating? There is nothing like celebrating this weekend with carrot juice and high potency qat. Look at that, after our elections for the Presidency there are similar elections in Egypt and Tunisia. There is going to be a lot to talk about in the qat sessions today. By the way Saleh, you should get yourself some good qat to overcome your cold.”
Saleh was not impressed by the election report in the Arab World: “Hameed, do you really think the Arab World has moved forward in the democratic process. There is no indication that any of these electrons you are talking about that the Arab World has gotten the gist of what democracy is all about. In Egypt, you have the classic referendum, with the only candidate being the incumbent. I have always felt that the Egyptians should be in the lead in fostering real democratic elections for their leaders, but it seems that the Arab leaders continue to feel that there is no one else more suited to lead their people other than them, thus they feel that all they need from elections is to have the mandate from the people to carry on for another term. Most likely, the most competitive election we might see is the one in Tunisia, but at this stage it is too early to see, if that will also not turn out to be a referendum. For our elections, we were given a choice all right, but the choice was selected by the existing regime, so how much of a choice did we really have? What chances did the other choice have in winning, if all the government was geared to make the incumbent win at any price?”Hameed commented: “We should not find difficulty in learning that in the next election there is a lot that should not be allowed to occur if we want real democratic elections: we should have more than one party represented by candidates for the office of the President. We should not allow the official media to work diligently for the incumbent President. We should have independent observers monitor the voting, the vote count and the tallying of all the votes to insure that no foul-play is at work.”Saleh added: “There should also be a sufficient enough time period between the nominations and the elections to allow the candidates to become better known among the voters. In two weeks it is really difficult for a guy like Qahtan Al-Sha’abi to become known to all the voters in the country, let alone the major cities.
“Saleh, I believe that as a first election, it was impressive to see that people still were willing to have a go at it, even though they realize that it is not exactly what they had in mind for a free election.” Hameed wanted to assure Saleh that people still wanted to take advantage of their right to vote.
But, Hameed what good is having that right, if that right is blocked from bringing about real concrete changes in the way we are governed and by whom we are governed? Something tells me that somebody is getting the short end of the stick: the people, to me, are not really getting their money’s worth are they?”
Ahmed also had a comment, as he gulped his juice when the muezzin uttered the call to prayer: “In Yemen, it seems like we never get our money’s worth, just taste this juice, it seems like our friend had forgotten to put the fruit in. The taste of plain water seems to dominate the flavor of the ‘juice’.”Hameed also rushed his juice down: “That is why I asked for carrot juice, because carrot juice is a lot harder to cheat on than Arab elections. Besides at least carrot juice provides a different alternative to Viagra for poor guys like me, who cannot afford the magic love pills. The potency of carrot juice is also not effected by whoever wins the Presidency.”Well thanks to God the elections went on peacefully, but carrot juice or not, what I want to know is where do we go from here?” queried Saleh.
“There can only be two directions: serious government or more of the same non-sense”.