IFES Steps up Support for Yemen’s Democratization [Archives:1999/21/Law & Diplomacy]

May 24 1999

International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) is a non-profit non-governmental organization based in Washington DC. It was created in 1987 for the purpose of providing support to emerging and established democracies world-wide. 
IFES has worked in over a 100 countries since 1987. Presently, the organization is busy in about 25 emerging democracies worldwide. 
Tom Bayer, Director of Programs for Africa and the Near East with IFES, recently visited the country. 
Hatem Bamehriz of Yemen Times talked to him. 
Q: We understand relations between IFES and Yemen go back several years. What is the history of cooperation? 
A: Indeed, our cooperation with Yemen goes back to 1993, when IFES first came to assist the Supreme Elections Commission (SEC) in the parliamentary elections held then. The cooperation covered training, development of training materials and the provision of various election commodities. 
IFES was active in Yemen once again in 1996, when it sent a small team of regional election specialists who came to assess the pre-election environment in Yemen and to discuss how IFES could help. In 1997, IFES engaged in on site technical training programs. It sent 66 co-trainers who trained 39,000 Yemeni election supervisors across the country in preparation for the 1997 elections. In 1998, IFES signed a memorandum of understanding with the SEC to develop the first national curriculum on elections administration held in the Arab World. The curriculum was applied in March 1999, in a seminar attended by former election supervisors and members of election committees as well as members of the current SEC. 
Q: On Saturday, May 15th, IFES signed a cooperation agreement with the SEC. What is that about? 
A: We reached an agreement of cooperation with the SEC in terms of the assistance we will provide leading up to the presidential elections later this year. This is mainly focused on capacity development for the SEC. The declared objective of the State of Yemeni is to have a permanent SEC institution and structure. 
The agreement also relates to poll-worker training and to some degree voter education, including political parties, government officials and the general population. Our work is not limited to the SEC. IFES deals both in the area of technical support to election procedures and processes as well as in the area of general public awareness, not only about elections, but also about good governance, democratization, accountability, rule of law and civil society. 
We try to inform as many people as possible, and to give as many people as possible access to information about the election system. It doesn’t stop at knowing how to vote, but also what it is they are voting for, and why they are voting. 
Q: Are you going to expand your assistance to cover general public awareness programs? 
A: The SEC has approached us about helping the department that addresses issues in regard to voter awareness programs and civic education. They have asked us to help them think through some of the challenges, as well as the best ways to reach out to both urban and rural populations. We think we can be of assistance in this regard. 
One of the fundamental elements of our work is to incorporate in everything a strong belief and understanding of several key values. Examples include the fact that the vote is an individual right, and that it must be secret. We encourage voters to ask questions of those who are campaigning to find out what it is they are offering, and what sort of solutions they have to the numerous challenges Yemen faces. 
Q: Is IFES going to monitor the coming presidential elections? 
A: Yes, of course. Our field representative will be here and if it is appropriate and resources allow, we hope that some members of our staff will be here as well. This, of course, depends on the regulations that the SEC establishes regarding who they are inviting as monitors, as well as the qualifications required of observers. 
By: Hatem Bamehriz 
Yemen Times