Democracy’s progress throughout Yemen’s elections process [Archives:2006/983/Reportage]

September 21 2006

Yemen has gone through various stages over the past 16 years as it's held different types of elections, whether presidential, parliamentary or local council elections.

For the first time in its history, Yemen is witnessing the most competitive presidential election, considered the first of its kind in the region. Five candidates are vying for the presidency: GPC candidate Ali Abdullah Saleh; JMP candidate Faisal Bin Shamlan; National Opposition Council candidate Yasin Abdu Sa'eed; independent candidate and leading socialist party member Ahmed Al-Majidi and independent candidate Fathi Al-Azab, who's in charge of the youth department within the Islah Party, the opposition coalition's largest party.

Here, we survey the various democratic phases within the Yemeni elections process, beginning from 1993, following unification.

1999 presidential election

After the April 1997 parliamentary elections, the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER) was reformed, with all political parties and organizations reviewing voter registries and deleting repeated names.

In 1999, Yemen witnessed the first real presidential election, where there were only two candidates vying with one another. Ali Abdullah Saleh was the General People's Congress (GPC) candidate, while his competitor, Najeeb Qahtan Al-Sha'bi, ran as an independent, but there was no real or serious competition between the two. At that time, 3,725,228 voters – equal to 98.7 percent – participated in the election, whose results were in favor of Saleh.

Saleh received 3,583,795 votes, while 141,433 votes went to Al-Sha'bi. Several local and foreign organizations, as well as some embassies in Yemen, participated in monitoring the election. The two most prominent opposition parties, Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party, stood by the GPC and nominated Saleh as their candidate. Many other political parties participated in the election as well.

The 1999 presidential election resulted from an agreement the political parties signed stipulating a multi-political system and peaceful transfer of power as basic principles for Yemen's regime.

For the first time, the SCER was formed, constituting 17 members and various committees. In accordance with Yemen's population census, the SCER divided the country into 301 constituencies and 2,017 electoral centers.

1993 parliamentary elections

The 1993 parliamentary elections are considered the first elections following unification, as well as the first to include all parts of Yemen. Nearly all political parties participated in the elections, with 3,166 candidates, of whom 1,940 were independents. The elections included 42 female candidates, 24 of whom were independents.

Although 2,682,457 citizens were registered on election rolls, only 2,271,126 voters (84.7 percent) voted. Parties included in the elections were the GPC, Islah, Al-Haq, the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Ba'ath Party, the Nasserite Unionist Party, the Nasserite Reform Party and the Nasserite Democratic Party. Election results led to a triple coalition consisting of the GPC, Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party.

1997 parliamentary elections

After the 1993 parliamentary elections, the SCER was formed to include seven members, with four other members joining in March 1996, totaling 11 SCER members at that time.

The 1997 parliamentary elections were characterized by a great number of citizens voting for their representatives in Parliament. Observers say large numbers of Yemenis participated in the elections due to increased election awareness. With 2,742,610 voters participating, they voted for 2,125 candidates nationwide representing 12 political parties, as well as independent candidates.

Election results showed that the GPC won 189 seats, Islah won 53 seats, the Nasserite Unionist People People's Organization won three seats, the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party won two seats and independent candidates won 54 seats. However, due to the 1994 secessionist war, the Yemeni Socialist Party boycotted the elections, which several local and international organizations monitored.

2003 parliamentary elections

Still more voters participated in these elections, with 6,201,254 Yemenis voting for 1,389 candidates representing 22 political parties. Although new governorates were established, the number of constituencies remained the same.

Election results showed that, as usual, the GPC won the most Parliament seats with 229 seats, followed by Islah, which won 45 seats. Other political parties received only very small percentages in these elections.

It was noticed that the opposition parties could exert strong pressure on the ruling party, so they formed what's known nowadays as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The JMP bloc consists of the Islamic Islah Party, the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Nasserite Unionist Party, Al-Haq Party and the Popular Forces Union Party.

While the GPC is the most prominent party in Yemen, other political parties include:

1. Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party

2. Nasserite Democratic Party

3. National Democratic Front

4. Nasserite Reform Party

5. Liberation Front Party

6. Leagues of the Sons of Yemen Party

7. Federation of Popular Forces

8. Ba'ath National Arab Socialist Party

9. Yemen Leagues Party

10. National Social Party

11. Popular Unionist Liberation Party

12. Popular Unification Party

13. People's Democratic Party

14. September Democratic Organization

15. Yemen Unionist Congregation

16. Green Social Party