For the First Time, People Admit: “We Feel that We Have the Choice Between Two Presidential Candidates” [Archives:1999/37/Law & Diplomacy]

September 13 1999

Jamal Al-Awadhi, 
Yemen Times 
The impending presidential elections come after long and multiple junctures since a number of series moves were implemented since the election process was launched in Yemen. In the first parliamentary elections of 1993, there was a heated competition between the three main parties: the PGC, the Islah and the YSP. Those elections were considered a big leap in the history of democracy in Yemen. Most Yemenis, of all walks of life, participated in those elections to choose their MPs. Before the 1993 elections, the tradition was that prominent sheiks, merchants and intellectuals got appointed by authorities, or through a coup d’etat. The democratic moved forward till the 1997, when the second parliamentary elections were organized. Many international NGOs were involved in observing the elections, which were boycotted by the Yemeni Socialist Party. The PGC reaped a majority of seats, seconded by the Islah. Only 10% of the seats went to the small parties. These elections were also considered successful, as reported by the international NGOs which observed them. Yemen, a developing country, suffering from huge economic problems, poverty and illiteracy, seemed to have succeeded in the test of democracy. 
Now Yemen has arrived to the final phase of the test, namely holding competitive Presidential elections to crown the 9 year old democratic process. Such elections should prove the credibility of democracy in Yemen. Two candidates are contesting the elections: President Saleh and Mr. Najib Al-Sha’abi, the son of the first president of independent South Yemen. The Socialist Party is again boycotting the elections and claims that pressures on Parliament were behind the endorsement of Mr. Asha’bis candidacy and not of Mr. Ali Saleh Obad Moqbel, the parties Secretary General, who was nominated by the opposition as its candidate. 
Yemen Times questioned a number of journalists, students and other personalities on the future after these elections, and on whether the decision taken by Parliament was constitutional and within the frame of the democratic process, or that the results are guaranteed for President Saleh. Here we display some of the interviews we made regarding this issue. 
1- Mr. Mohammed Al-Ahgori: 
“The impending elections are unique in Yemen and are a by-product of the democratic process which was launched in 1991, and continues to thrive. These elections are considered a very important exercise for the people of Yemen, in order to get acquainted with process of determining which is the suitable candidate to be chosen for leading the state affairs.Despite all the difficulties that people of Yemen continue to suffer; holding these elections gives Yemen a good image and reputation abroad. As for President Saleh’s candidacy, I believe it is constitutional. Nothing faulted the agreement between the Islah and the PGC on him as a joint candidate, since they own between them 90% of votes in Parliament and among the people. The remaining 10% chose Mr. Alshaa’bi. No MP did claim that he was coerced into preferring Mr. Al-Shaabi and rejecting Mr. Moqbel. 
The campaign has started and it is hoped that the big number of NGOs that observed the previous 1993 and 1997 elections shall share this historical experience with the people of Yemen. These are the first direct competitive Presidential elections to be held in Yemen and the region. I feel in fact that there is a wide consensus around President Saleh, but that doesn’t mean in any way that we should dismiss the elections. Elections should be held and there should be a contest. These are exercises in democracy and our people have to learn and to get used to them. They shall be difficult to dismiss in the future. 
Yemenis are renewing their old known history in this aspect. If President Saleh gets re-elected, he will have a difficult agenda politically and economically; Which I think he shall be able to implement, as he shall be enforced by the added legitimacy of elections. Our people has wide hopes in getting the quality of our livelihood raised.”2-Adnan Mustafa -Journalist-Al-Thawri 
“I can say that democracy in Yemen has not reached the level that enables the people of Yemen to be capable of having Presidential elections. I myself support President Saleh’s candidacy, but we believe that these elections do lack something, especially as the opposition candidate was denied the needed endorsement. I feel that the other candidate is not fit for running because he is a member of the PGC. It is not right to have two candidates from one party because it gives the impression that the elections are not serious. I do hope that real competition shall take place. What is going on now is similar to a referendum. Everybody is supporting Mr. Saleh, while Mr. Al-Shaabi lacks glory of our national struggles in the past and therefore, lacks any popularity.He just appeared from nowhere, and is only the son of the previous, first president of South Yemen. He doesn’t own any vision. In his first mass assembly he spoke of free education and free medical services …etc, which is expected to be said by any candidate who wants people to vote for him. Frankly, I support Mr. Saleh, but I don’t agree with the way Parliament dealt with the candidate of the opposition. As for the future, I have great hopes in the President that he shall reform our economical and social affairs.” 
3-Abdulla Al-Imad (student – Faculty of Information): 
“Those who say that there is no serious democracy in Yemen, it is enough for them that they are able to say so, without being restricted in any way. They criticize the prevailing situation and the moves taken by the government to implement the administrative and fiscal reforms. What can we call this? There are opposition parties, as well as ruling parties. All have wide popular support. Does the refusal of Parliament to endorse a candidate mean that there is no democracy in Yemen and that the elections are an open game? It is right that there is a unanimous agreement on President Saleh, but that does not mean that the elections should be cancelled. 
The world has to know that the people of Yemen make its own decisions and determine who is going to govern the country. I consider elections as a kind of education for us. What some parties are circulating about boycotting the elections is an anti-democracy action itself. In addition to that, the constitution has limited the number of chances to be elected to twice only, so there shall be no lifelong president. This in itself is a qualitative detour, and a very good beginning for enforcing democracy in Yemen. 
I think President Saleh, when elected, can lead us into a better future. We hope that in the coming reign, there shall be better credibility in fighting administrative and financial corruption and in raising the life of our people to a higher level. That is the difficult job that awaits the elected president.” 
4- Yahya Dughaish – athlete 
“I see that the coming presidential elections are a distinguished accomplishment. Nobody has ever thought of such a possibility of people choosing their president, even as an idea only. What is going on now is the enforcement of this principle inside the minds of common people, so that they become used to electing their MPs and their president. This has never happened here before. Now people shall go to the ballots to choose , and every one decides on which candidate he considers a better choice. I call on these parties that threaten to boycott the elections to share the experience with the people. When the YSP boycotted the 1997 parliamentary elections; it deprived itself of any votes it needed to endorse the candidate for the Presidential elections. How can they boycott parliamentary elections, and later demand the elected Parliament to endorse their candidate. This is a very clear contradiction. How long shall this condition prevail? The opposition has to test itself and the extent of its popular support through the elections. That is better than hiding itself behind boycotting. We hope to have a strong opposition that can be influential in making reforms and straightening the situation. 
As for President Saleh he was named for candidacy by two of the most popular parties in Yemen. What we look for is a heated competition with the other candidate Mr. Al-Shaabi. The elected President shall be the choice of the people, and by that we shall have taken the most decisive step, and this principle must be deeply placed in the souls and minds of our children and the next generation, for a better future for Yemen.” 
5- Esam Al-Qassem – Journalist: 
“I hope that the coming elections shall top the previous phases since the 1993 parliamentary elections. Now we shall elect a president for the first time. Giving the people the right to choose is in itself a very good beginning. This is something new for our people, since independence and the revolution. In other countries democracy has taken a long time to reach its level of today. Yemen has within nine years, reached a distinguished level of the democratic process. 
As for Presidential elections, I see them as a new level to which the Yemeni people was lifted to: a level at which the people bear responsibility and determine which candidate is better for them. The ballot boxes shall decide. Every voter shall put the name of either Ali or Najib in the box. This is itself a great accomplishment. People begin to feel that they are the ones who determine their future and that they practice their rights freely. This way, Yemen gives a civilized impression of itself, despite the social and economical difficulties. I think it shall be very difficult for the elected president to build a system that is governed only by law; a system in which equality and justice prevail for every body. I think we need to unite our efforts, because divisions are only weakening us. Our joint aim is to serve our country and catch up with the other countries and peoples. We have to practice our rights and to praise the elections instead of boycotting them.”