Initiatives of President Saleh and Hamid Al-Ahmar [Archives:2007/1099/Opinion]

November 1 2007

By: Munir Al-Maweri
Over the past few days, I closely observed the consecutive reactions to President Saleh's initiative for conducting new constitutional amendments. Reactions to the initiative varied, as some people rejected it without the minimum effort to discuss its content while others welcomed it without any comments or remarks. In my opinion, the Yemeni opposition, by which I mean the real opposition represented by Joint Meeting Parties, made a mistake by not interacting with this initiative for reasons related with the one who declared the initiative rather than the initiative itself.

I think that President Saleh, on his part, erred for publicly adopting unexpected initiative terms, and had he but consulted his friends in the opposition before declaring and adopting such an initiative, the opposition would not have been suspicious about its objectives.

As a neutral observer, I am not concerned with the purpose of the initiative and the president's attitude toward the opposition's disagreement with the initiative. My duty is to discuss terms of the initiative itself, which, I think, is in line with the Document of Pledge and Accord in most of its content, and therefore its revolutionary color is superior to that of the document. And, the opposition should not miss the opportunity of constitutional amendments covering issues, which it never dreamt that Mr. President would accept to discuss, however, he is now adopting the same issues.

From these points, acknowledging the so-called local authority, establishing local police in the different governorates, having the local councils in charge of taxes and other local resources to implement projects as per the needs of each area, and allocating a specific share for women in Parliament constitute an unprecedented revolutionary step, which was previously seen only in the Republic of Iraq. In addition, the equal representation of governorates at the Shoura Council, irrespective of the population of each, is another important point, as this term implies justice for the southern and eastern governorates that have large areas but are scarcely populated.

Regarding the presidential and parliamentary systems, one can say that the current system in Yemen, as described by the former Member of Parliament Anees Hussein Yahya in 1993, is neither presidential nor parliamentary. According to Yahya, this system is strange since it confuses between powers of President of the Republic and those of Prime Minister, and the solution to this problem is that only one of the two systems must be selected and adopted at the expense of the other.

Having a cursory glance at the experiences of the nations surrounding us, the presidential system is more successful because the president is directly responsible for whatever happens in his state, and therefore fears any accountability and interrogation over exceeding his constitutional powers. The clear-cut example in support of this is the American Presidential System, which delegates the president broad powers but under the parliament's control and observation.

According to the American Presidential System, the president can select the high-ranking officials, but the House of Senates has the jurisdiction to approve or reject them. Also, the opposition is likely to win the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Consequently, the president's policies will be closely monitored and his mistakes will face harsh criticism.

On the other hand, observation in the parliamentary system seems to be absent because the majority party in parliament will be in charge of forming the cabinet, and this may result in a kind of favoritism and partiality between the legislature and executive, as is currently experienced in Yemen.

Another distinctive characteristic of the presidential system that makes it sound better than the parliamentary one is that it fits our situations in Yemen as a society giving crucial importance to the post of the president. So, Iraq's experience in this area failed due to the transition of a totalitarian system into a parliamentary system where the president has no adequate powers. Although President Jalal Talabani has strong character, the lack of constitutional powers devolved to him made him subjected to joking from among the Iraqis following the strong personality of the former President Saddam Hussein. This did not help Eyad Allawi to restore stability to the war-ravaged country, and such must not be allowed to occur in Yemen. Additionally, the constitution must not be drafted in a way serving the interests of certain people. Instead, it has to be outlined in a way matching the long-term interests of the nation.

Completing the initiative:

Despite the fact that the initiative contains positive points, the best description of it is the one given by Mohamed Al-Hakim Al-Maqaleh, Deputy Director of Media Circle in the Yemeni Socialist Party. Al-Maqaleh said that the initiative is good but incomplete, and its being incomplete doesn't mean that it is wholly rejected, as some vital points need to be added.

Through telephone conversations with many personalities opposing the initiative, I clearly understood that the primary fears stem from the fact that some people believe that the constitutional amendments are meant to restart the game. In other words, the current president will be more likely to stay in power for two presidential terms of five years each, coupled with the remaining six years of his ongoing term. And, as President Saleh has been in power for 29 years, this will bring to 45 the total years of Saleh's rule. The opponents have the right to raise this concern, particularly as Saleh already did the same a few years ago in order to extend his stay in power via the constitutional amendments.

With my highest consideration to Mr. President, Yemen can no longer tolerate his stay in power from more 16 years, nor may his nomination for another mandate be a factor to help maintain stability of the country. Certainly, any expected nomination of Saleh to run for President in the future will be a factor to help divide the nation and destroy the margin of democracy that has been achieved until now. It will also serve as a factor to destroy all the achievements, including Reunification, which President Saleh is priding himself on while we – the Yemeni people – will be a source of laughter for other nations worldwide over the excessive constitutional amendments conducted for the sake of our president to remain in power.

Munir Al-Maweri is an American journalist of Yemeni origin.

Source: Al- Wasat newspaper

Source: Al-Ahali Weekly.