Game of Democratic Fundamentals [Archives:2001/27/Law & Diplomacy]

July 2 2001

Ahmad Abdullah al-Sufi
Secretary General of Yemeni Institute for Developing Democracy,
It is commonly believed that democracy is a fair and a politically competitive game. However, it seems that Yemeni democracy is not more than a dance manipulated by only one dancer who defines its rules and audience. It is an irony that Yemen hosted the Emerging Democracies Forum in 1999, a time when democratic values were slaughtered in screwed up elections. The very elections were not up to the expectations of the observers of democratic development in our country which is attributed to the failure of national efforts to draw out a realistic vision that can be realized. Another reason is the failure of the international efforts in placing Yemen and democracy on the right track for Yemen is the only country which has never been given a compatible program to sustain the development of democracy.
The Yemeni Institute for Developing Democracy has managed to remain a civil institution. It does not depend on any international assistance to carry out its projects. It depended mainly on dedicated volunteers during the elections held in 2001. It was actually an interesting and informative experience, which all of us have to make use of to enrich our understanding of democracy, its supreme values and fundamentals.
The final report of the Institute revealed many limitations and violations which I believe will not be overcome in the coming elections unless there is thorough national and international efforts to ensure a free and fair election. We have to pull our resources together to lay down solutions on the basis of the four electoral experiences Yemen has gone through.
Thus, it is crucial to have a clear vision of the democratic future in Yemen which is compatible with the concerns of the political parties in the coming elections due in 2003. That will be the fifth experience of democratic institutions Yemen undergoes. It has to be free of the limitations and shortcomings of the previous experiences. Violations observed previously were a clear sign of the weak commitment by the authority to democracy when it comes to the issues of authority and power. Therefore, elections have been instrumental in aborting and weakening energies. This has made the Yemeni democracy suffer from a permanent handicap which can be attributed to the fragile democratic awareness and the lack of attention to its role in promoting public performance. One of the clear signs of the absence of democracy is that Yemen, after ten years, lacks even one newspaper to promote and enhance the political awareness, fundamentals of democracy and democratic techniques. This has a considerably negative impact on the political domain marked by backward and retrograde legislation in complete contradiction to the constitution. Furthermore, the political domain has been marked by a wild dance. This atmosphere actually makes elections meaningless forcing many potential candidates to shun participation as their results are already a foregone conclusion.
In view of this phenomenon the Institute concluded that democracy in Yemen is in a state of on-going deterioration. The situation has to be retrieved before it’s too late. This has made the institute adopt a comprehensive project to stop the democratic processes to decline any further. The Institute set up a Democratic Forum which has of many prominent political figures. The forum is based on some assumptions which are as follows:
1- Democracy in Yemen suffers from a lack of trust on the part of the people. The people do not trust the way elections are conducted and view them as unjust. They do not ensure transparency and legality. Election processes have actually been a tool used by the ruling party and a select few from the opposition. This has restricted a healthy discussion on the legislation, electoral system and neutrality of the Supreme Election Committee (SEC) on issues concerning the party in power and part of the opposition.
This conclusion has made us think of establishing a forum for all parties, NGOs, legal and media personalities interested in mobilizing public opinion to influence the official and political organs in amending the law through a comprehensive and extensive discussion in all the governorates. The discussion is to assess the experience and propose the mechanisms to overcome the limitations.
The democratic experience suffers from a handicap as a result of the negative culture as if it is compatible with democracy. This has made democracy promote a national heritage that lacks democratic principles and thought. This has impeded the progress of democracy and its smooth functioning during the elections forging a healthy relation between the government and the opposition. This has made us suggest the importance of inviting international expertise to provide consultation needed at all levels. This could spare us the big fuss of outcry against the fairness of the SEC, ensuring correctness of electoral records, adequate participation of the parties and political groups in the implementation of the electoral system, minimizing poll rigging and misuse of the media.
I believe that the first and second steps will promote public awareness creating a strong pressure to make the electoral process stronger. We pin our hopes on the international commissions to respond positively to this.
Yemeni democracy suffers from the lack of trust and is marked by mutual suspicion between the authorities and opposition. This makes it important for the opposition to start a dialogue to build up trust which is the basis of democratic principles and fundamentals. They should organize a national conference to implement the outcome of their discussion to ensure free and fair elections in 2003.
It seems only logical that this experience will lead to more studies regarding the difficulties and setbacks. However, we have to reckon with the fact that democracy is a long and complicated process full of obstacles.
Will the democratic game regain its glorious features in the coming elections? Or will we just repeat the same old wild scene?