Elections & the Plight of the Opposition [Archives:1999/29/Law & Diplomacy]

July 19 1999

By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi, 
Managing Editor, Yemen Times 
The upcoming presidential elections are the main topic of discussion and debating of the Yemeni people nowadays. These elections are of a pivotal significance since it lays the basis of a democratic practice that will help promote and flourish the infant democratic process in Yemen, no matter what the result is. However, this first experience, where the president of the state will be elected directly by the people for the first time in the modern political history of Yemen, should lead to fair elections and minimization of the mistakes that might arise on the scene. In this way, we will be laying the foundation for a long-term future democratic process, although I believe no democratic system can be built overnight. 
In the final analysis, the presidential elections will almost certainly not bring any changes in the power center, for most political analysts see that president Ali Abdullah Saleh is stuck without a challenger. This is because he is the nominee of the People’s General Congress (PGC) and the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah), the two major political parties in Yemen. However, it is not just that. Rather, he has no strong competitor in the country, and most people see him as the man of the times. 
After the opposition parties failed to convince either Dr. Faraj Bin Ghanem, former prime minister, or Dr. Yassin Saeed Noman to be their nominee for the coming elections, they fell out in tumult, amid controversy over who else to nominate. The past few days have clouded the horizons with controversial discussions and debates amongst the opposition parties, which brought the dreams of their backers to ashes. It seems that the opposition has not learned a lesson from the previous parliamentary elections of 1993 and 1997. At last, the tough decision was made last Saturday evening and the opposition recommended Mr. Ali Saleh Obad, The Yemeni Socialist Party’s Secretary-General, to be their candidate for the presidential elections. But, was that decision right and convincing? Is Mr. Obad able to strongly compete against president Saleh? Or was it a bargain between the government and the opposition? This is because everybody knows that Obad is not popular so enough that people will cast their votes for him either in the southern or northern governorates. Or was it because he comes from the southern governorates and hence he will definitely and without any obstacles get the parliament’s okay, so that people feel some kind of a political balance. We don’t want it to go that way, for casting votes for the candidates on the basis of their being from the south or north will put the Yemeni unification in jeopardy. 
I believe, as does everybody else, that Dr. Yassin was the man to compete strongly, for he has a lot of supporters all over the country, irrespective of whether or not he was going to win. But, he could surely have gotten a large number of the votes, which would have at least shown the real size of the opposition in Yemen, which is actually a help in our democratic process. But the nomination of Mr. Obad makes the people feel that all of it is a mere decoration. 
Another point that has to be mentioned here is the very disappointing and hasty decision of the Islah party regarding the nomination of the president Saleh. The Islah was even prior to the PGC in announcing their nomination. This decision might bring about internal division leading to splinter factions among the Islah party. However, the behavior of the Islah and other opposition parties highlights a real political crisis in Yemen, and that president Saleh is the man to trust. The fluctuation of the opposition leaves president Saleh as the man of the time, stuck without a challenger. Therefore, we hope the president will take this chance to again breathe new life into the Yemeni society. This is because his people are troubled by many problems and pitfalls. Real political, economic and social reform has to start now, and it is only president Saleh who can do it. 
We will wait and see!