Gubernatorial elections and shooting ourselves in the foot [Archives:2008/1157/Viewpoint]

May 22 2008

Two days ago over six thousand and fiver hundred members of the local councils headed to election centers to choose the first batch of elected governors in Yemen. About a thousand boycotted the elections, mainly of the opposition parties. Initial results indicate all of the elected governors are GPC except for three of the 20 governorates where the elections took place on Saturday. Al-Dhale' was the only governorate where elections took place yesterday. The supervising committee in Al-Dhale' province postponed the voting due to the incomplete quorum.

Al-Dhale' is the only governorate where an independent pro-opposition candidate has taken lead in the elections, as opposition members of the council voted for him representing themselves as independents and not on behalf of the political party. While the three independent candidates are of Mareb, Sa'ada and Al-Baidha.

The elections have been reported to go smoothly, except for Al-Dhale'. After all the voters are selective few as only members of the local councils can elect, and around 13 percent of them (opposition parties members) have boycotted the whole process.

According to the Ministry of Local Administration, the Main Supervising Committee

of Governor Elections, seven of the governorates witnessed strong competition between the GPC and the independent candidates. Reports also indicate that there has been some disputes within the GPC members themselves as the local members of the party wanted to nominate different candidates than who the party's central leadership wanted to nominate. This indicates that the local affiliation or loyalty of the members at times became stronger than their loyalty to the party. From an anthropologist point of view, this is natural in a country like Yemen where the clan or the tribe ties and connections are stronger that any ideological relations.

Hilal, Minister of Local Administration, had told me in an interview recently that he regards the opposition's decision to boycott the elections as wrong and not helpful to the democratic development of Yemen. I totally agree with that because you can not make a difference by refusing to be involved. I believe that they boycotted the elections because they realized they don't stand good chances, and frankly speaking as Hilal also pointed out, “They are reaping what they sowed” referring to their performance in the local council elections in 2006.

All opposition parties and their affiliated newspapers have been putting down the governors' elections in every way they can. A recent article in one of these newspapers explained in figures how all 21governorates with one exception (Al-Dhale') have the GPC as a smashing majority in the local councils.

As a follower of the democratic process of the gubernatorial elections I too have my reservations. For example, I am not sure how inclusive the process would be since the elections of the governors come after the elections of the members of the local councils. In other words, it is possible that the members of the local councils would elect a governor who would “take care of their interests” using his undoubted influence when the coming local council elections take place. And so it could turn out to be a closed circle of mutual interests or “I scratch your back you scratch mine”. But nevertheless, I still think the ability to make a difference is more possible from within the system than from without.

Are there flaws in this new process, sure there are. But overall I think this is a positive step that we should embrace and work on perfecting. There is no point in shooting ourselves in the foot every time there is change, and ruining our chances of becoming a better country.