Confrontations between security and JMP demonstrators [Archives:2008/1212/Front Page]

December 1 2008

Saddam Al-Ashmori
and Yemen Times Staff

SANA'A, Nov. 29 ) Up to 24 people including journalists were injured and another 25 were arrested during demonstrations by the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) last Thursday in Sana'a. The demonstrations were organized in protest against the electoral preparations carried out by the ruling party, the General People's Congress (GPC), regardless of the opposition's objections.

Eyewitnesses reported that around 1,500 security men surrounded the demonstration venue, Al-Tahrir Square, to prevent thousands of the JMP supporters from joining the demonstration. They maintained that security forces used tear gas and gunfire to scatter the crowds which marched in the streets leading to the square.

However thousands of protestors were able to breach the security cordon and those who could not took to the streets of the city. They raised slogans denouncing the way the ruling party is dealing with the electoral process and demanded fair and transparent elections.

In response to the protests, the GPC called its supporters to march on the streets of Sana'a for an early celebration of independence from the British on Nov. 30 and the successful completion of voters' registration.

The confrontation was carried further in the media as both official and opposition newspapers exchanged accusations. JMP statements in the press demanded a legal trial for the security men who opened fire against protestors. “These outrageous aggressions against citizens are another addition to the government's record of crimes and violations of human rights. The government is responsible for the bloody confrontations that took place during the demonstration,” the statement said.

Similarly, the Ministry of Interior held some leaders of the JMP responsible for the confrontations, confirming that those involved in the riot would be held legally accountable, either as individuals or as political parties.

“The JMP and the GPC requested permissions to hold their processions at Al-Tahrir square in Sana'a. The supreme security committee of the Ministry of Interior held a meeting Wednesday morning to look into the requests and decided to prevent both sides from holding any activities at Al-Tahrir Square,” said a source at the Ministry of Interior.

“The committee allocated the Tahrir Sports Stadium for the JMP activity and Al-Sabeen Square for the GPC. However, the JMP beckoned its supporters to gather at Al-Tahrir Square, which prompted security apparatuses to take the necessary precautions to prevent the JMP supporters from reaching the square.”

The opposition's demonstration is part of a series of activities the JMP is organizing in the different Yemeni governorates to stop the parliamentary elections from taking place next April. The demand is to change the electoral process from the individual candidates system to the proportional list system, and to increase the representation of both the opposition and independent candidates in the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER).

However, the government had not yielded and has gone forth with voter registration, causing riots around the country. Some of these protests have hindered the registration process and some electoral committees were prevented from registering voters.

A report prepared by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and Human Rights Information and Training Center (HRITC) stated that a comprehensive reform of the legal and administrative framework of the electoral process is overdue. Reform should fully incorporate international standards for democratic elections such as Article 25 of the UN's International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. This would improve future elections and contribute to political stability. There is still time to address some legal shortcomings ahead of the parliamentary and local elections in spring 2009, and for the SCER to clarify the implementation of legislation, for example by revising its electoral manuals.

The report confirmed that since the GPC and JMP have failed to agree on electoral reforms, there is a risk that the JMP will boycott the 2009 elections. Holding elections which are neither pluralistic nor inclusive would be a significant backward step. Time is running out for the government and opposition to come to an agreement. It may already be too late to improve some aspects of the process, for example registering voters.

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit group of experts. DRI promotes political participation of citizens, accountability of state bodies and the development of democratic institutions world-wide. DRI analyses, reports and makes recommendations to both the public and policy makers on democratic governance. DRI helps finding local ways of promoting the universal right of citizens to participate in the political life of their country, as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.