In the Symposium Organized by the Future Studies Center, Al-Bayan and Yemen Times: HEATED DEBATE ON LOCAL ELECTIONS AND CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS RAISE CONTROVERSY (Part II) [Archives:2001/08/Reportage]

February 19 2001

This coverage is a continuation to last week’s report about the seminar organized by Yemen Times, Future Studies Center and Al-Bayan Newspaper.
Mr. Mohamed Yahya Shaif, a member of the permanent committee of the PGC responded by saying, “I would like to respond to Mr. Jarallah Omar’s statements by saying that first of all, the reasons for the resignation of Dr. Faraj bin Ghanem were not because he demanded local authority. PGC did not demand local authority just today, as the PGC’s National Covenant “Al-Mithaq Al-Watani” first demanded local authority when it was published in 1982. The demand for local elections proceeded the multi-party system. As a member of the PGC, unlike Mr. Jarallah Omar, who said what he said as if he were with us in our meetings, I deny that we were against the amendments in our private informal sessions. The local council elections with their present law may have some mistakes, but it is an experiment, a beginning with the potential to be developed and enhanced. We are with the political parties in this perspective. “
Mr. Ali Saif Hassan, a member of the central committee for the Unionist Nasserite Movement said, “The issue of the local authorities took more time than it deserves. The local authority law that has been approved is even more backward than the traditional tribal Sheikhism that has been implemented for thousands of years. As for the constitutional amendments, I disagree with the rest of the opposition members, as I believe that there are certain requirements for constitutional amendments. However, I don’t believe in these particular amendments, which signal further backwardness in our democracy and a total collapse of the originally drafted 1990 plan for the unified Yemen. I expect that the population will refuse these amendments, along with all the political parties including members of the PGC itself, even though they express their dissatisfaction with the amendments in their hearts only. No matter how the state tries to enforce a general belief in the acceptability of the amendments, the voice of the public and citizens will eventually reach the authorities, which will know the true position of the people no matter how much fraud takes place.
So far, there are no structures or buildings allocated for elected local councils after almost 40 years of revolution. Hence, I propose to Mr. Alawi Al-Salami, Minister of Finance, to take into consideration the example of the American Marshall Law, which presented the project of rebuilding Europe within two years, so as to be able to build the structures for the local councils. Through this, the minister would present the country with a solution to its current economic crisis, provide an economic solution to all the country’s troubles and enter the history of the nation.”
Prominent Lawyer Jamaladdin Al-Adimi, Director of the Civil Society Forum, raised some important points that had been ignored or neglected during the seminar so far. He talked about the role of the state-run media and its use by the authorities to influence public opinion. “After a comprehensive study by the forum to know exactly why the gap between the ruling party and the rest was so high, we came to the conclusion that this was not because of fraud or multiple voting, etc. during the electoral process. This mainly happened because the public’s opinion was deeply influenced by the TV and Radio organs that directly and openly polished the image of the ruling party in front of the public, while rarely mentioning other parties.”Al-Adimi also stated that the decision to hold the local elections in such a short time created more problems as it did not allow equal opportunities and adequate preparations and supervision. “In the report of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the government was recommended to postpone the elections as it would not be possible to handle them properly without good preparations. However, their recommendation was not taken seriously,” he said.
He concluded his speech by saying that the forum is working on a project to analyze the broadcasting share of the different parties on TV and radio, by monitoring thousands of hours of broadcasting by the different media organs so as to determine whether there are equal opportunities given or not. He added that his forum would try to reveal the final report to the public just before the elections, but that this would be quite difficult as the short period of time may not allow them to do so.

Mr. Noman Qaid Saif, Al-Shoura Editor-in-Chief, mouthpiece of the Yemeni Unionist Congregation Party, responded to the PGC representatives’ allegations by saying, “It is absolutely not true that the popularity of the PGC is genuine, but by using the public funds and media organs in its favor it is trying to show that it is so. Any party that owns the Central Bank of Yemen’s safes and has ultimate control over the media and the state’s brutal police forces, will definitely find itself on top. Unless the ruling party does not abuse these facilities, there is no hope for a peaceful transfer of power.
As to what Mr. Jarallah Omar said concerning the government’s use of the media to encourage the public to say “YES” to the amendments, I believe that this claim has come too late. The opposition could have presented conditions to be involved in the electoral process, which if not met, would lead to them boycotting the elections. If the opposition was forced to be involved in the elections and participate, then it should ask for another opportunity to organize itself properly and play the game right.”
Interestingly, almost four hours after the start of the seminar, Mr. Walid Al-Saqqaf, Editor of Yemen Times raised another question, “Did anyone notice that until this very moment we received no logical justification for the constitutional amendments, particularly for the articles concerning the extensions of the parliamentary and presidential terms?” He pointed out that the question raised by the representative of the Eritrean Embassy about the essence of the constitutional amendments was yet to be answered.

Dr. Faris AL-Saqqaf answered by saying that the PGC representatives have tried their best in justifying and openly stated what they saw as legitimate reasons for the amendments, including the protection of the environment from pollution and cleanliness, etc.. but he added that anyone from the PGC would be welcome to try to justify the amendments more logically.

Then Mr. Mohamed Abdulrahman Al-Ruba’i, Director of the Constitution Protecting Committee and General Secretary of the Popular Forces Union Party presented his viewpoint regarding the two focal points of the seminar by saying, “There seems to be a point of dispute about the fact that there is no article or statement in the current law with the name ‘local administration or authority’. This means that there is no such thing in the constitution because authority means independence, which is not available in this format in the local authority law. Hence, it is obvious that the authorities have stripped the law of any sensible meaning.
If the elected parliamentarians are not able today to vote on a no-confidence motion against the government, how on earth will the elected local council members be able to vote on no-confidence motions against the governor, who is to be appointed by the president of the republic? It is impossible, thus the whole issue is no more than a political flimflam.
Even though the constitution clearly and decisively says that the people have the authority and are its source, it is no more than ink on paper because the people cannot elect their governors, or even heads of provinces.”
Mr. Mohamed Al-Maqaleh, an independent political author and analyst said, “I believe that the main objective of these amendments is the article concerning the extension of the president’s term to 7 years. It is well known that in 1995, an amended article stated that the presidential period is only 5 years and that no president can stay in power for more than two periods. But the current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was elected immediately after the 1995 amendment, and according to the transitional manuscript, the first period started once the house of parliament elected the president in 1995. Five years after that, his first period ended in 1999, and the second period started on September 23 1999 after the direct presidential elections. In other words, the president’s actual period should end in 2004, but with the amendments it will be extended by four more years.”Mohamed Yayha Al-Sabiri, a Master student in the Department of Political Science of Sanaa University’s College of Economy and Commerce said, “There is a dangerous dimension to the constitutional amendments and local council elections. The US Ambassador to Yemen, Mr. Barbara Bodine stated that the local elections are a blessing and that the US supports them fully. I have the sense that foreign interference is evident in the two issues, and that there seems to be external pressure on the authorities, which do not seem to be fully convinced to introduce and approve these amendments that do not serve our nation well.”Finally, in a concluding statement, Dr. Mohamed Abdulmalik Al-Mutawakkil, former PGC member and a well-known and respected intellectual said, “Mr. Walid Al-Saqqaf asked about the justifications of the amendments, and everyone is asking about the justifications. Frankly speaking, I believe that the PGC has many interests in the amendments. First of all, it is in the interest of the PGC to get more authority and power. It can secure its future by dominating all authorities at the local and government level. With the amendments, the authorities will be in the hands of the president, in the hands of the PGC, and in the hands of the current administration. The main justification that is so clear is that the PGC wants to go back to the totalitarian regime under the single-party system. It wants to control the political scene and get rid of the little opposition parties that bother it from time to time. It wants to dominate all aspects of political life. The amendments also give the president unlimited power to control the constitution forever. Aren’t these enough to explain why the PGC wants the amendments?”The seminar ended with an address by Dr. Faris Al-Saqqaf who stated that above all, it was an opportunity for all to express their diverse and different viewpoints. The PGC was given the chance to respond, the opposition was also given the chance to voice their viewpoints, and all the guests were quite satisfied with the democratic atmosphere of the seminar.