It’s in a teething stageFuture of democratic experience in Yemen [Archives:2003/640/Opinion]

June 9 2003

Mohammed Bin Sallam
What is the future of the democratic experience in Yemen after thirteen years, particularly after the 2003 April elections? It can definitely be assumed that the last parliamentary elections held on April 27 this year, as a form of practicing democracy signifies that the future of democratic experience in Yemen has with no doubt been making no progress and hasn't raised hopes among the people.
Another assumption has been that democracy in Yemen has become unquestionable choice dictated by local or international developments. Yemen in this case can not adapt itself to or interact with the world unless its democratic experience improves. The 27 April election is a new test of the democratic experience in Yemen and of the state itself. Such experience constitutes a strong challenge of great significance at local, regional and international levels. With the approach of the election's year, a number of indications have become apparently clear for majority of the political forces in Yemen. Democracy has become a key target for local forces, which are financed by some regional powers, doing that intentionally in an attempt to hinder democracy's ever-growing process. For the majority of the Yemeni people, they are pinning on ensuring their unity, stability and development. They believe that those elections represent a stepping-stone for broadening horizons of relations among all political forces in the country. From the outset, all political forces actively took part in those elections
Initiatives were taken by the Joint Meeting Parties JMP (8 opposition parties), along with other national forces, to sanction legal and political agreements for elections to be honestly run.
The General Peoples Congress, (GPC) ruling party has implicitly responded to the agreement. But when elections took place, the GPC hasn't showed adherence to those agreements. Everything has been altered for the benefit of the ruling party. All ambitions and aspirations to create parliamentary balance for reviving democracy in Yemen have been encountered with obstacles affecting them day by day.
Since the mid of 2002, the GPC showed keen interest to muster efforts and potentials for its own interests and that elections were run in order reshape the political map of both the opposition and state.
The GPC has indeed succeeded in unraveling threads connecting the opposition parties till they have become weak, and disunited. This has been done for gaining an overwhelming majority and it has actually achieved that. The same policy had been pursued during the 1993 and the 1997 elections.
Regardless of modest results the opposition parties have gained in the latest elections, the situation will remain to be considered as a teething stage. As is the case with young democracies, one of the tangible positive results is the growing of stability and enhancement of the idea of peaceful co-existence. The political arena has witnessed a large-scale participation by the political parties and individuals accompanied with very limited instances of violent confrontations. During the vote counting stage, the GPC has been totally dependent on its self power. It has also sought and used the help of tribal influence and its dominance to serve its purposes. Nomination of some influential tribal personalities to the elections, especially those enjoying a wide-range influence in the governorates, helped the GPC's gaining great number of votes in the election. The most predominant factor of elections is not the political platforms or slogans that have been raised. It is attributed to the comprehensive media propaganda and huge amounts of money spent in those elections. As opposed to this, opposition parties as well as independent candidates were in short of material support.

Democracy improved
The positive phenomenon demonstrated in the latest elections is that it has shown considerable improvement in election atmospheres compared to previous electoral sessions.
What is needed is that focus must not be on the how many votes were won or lost by this political force or that, but rather on using the elections for developing political and democratic awareness of the society in about such practices. Pursuant to total numbers of voters of the 20 political parties together, it could be inferred that the basic organizational structure of the Yemeni political parties has become relatively weak. The image resembles the situation at sports or social clubs.
The maximum election results of the 15 parties haven't exceeded 22795, as that of the Ba'ath Party.
Similarly, the minimum number of results has reached 320 votes for the Democratic September Party and 495 for the Yemeni Congregation Party. The most astonishing political gap that one sees is the strong tribal influence dominating the whole community. This clearly has manifested itself when Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussien al-Ahmar has won an overwhelming majority estimated at 25352 votes. In comparison to other nations' experiments, election results are not necessarily governed by party affiliate voters.
Other different factors control the will of electorate. This was negatively reflected upon the fragility of our political parties' structure. Consequently, the reason behind disappearance of political parties has become mere justification for the failure of those parties from the standpoint of their institutional structure. This is perhaps one of the most hazardous indications deciding the future democracy in Yemen. From the organizational point of view the Yemeni Socialist Party is undoubtedly firmly established in the past and possesses political experience before and after the unification. Around 277223 voters have voted in favor of the YSP.
Political observers see that the Islah Party as an Islamic party is characterized by its high organizational capabilities. This could be clearly detected when the Islah members and supporters have gained 1333394 votes. The Islah party could acquire wide-range popularity added to other tribal forces led by al-Ahmar.
We do not do repeat our discussion about the 15 afore-mentioned parties.
One can observe that through the general similarities of different political platforms, the 27 April election is a clear testimony of its close adherence to clan and tribal influence.
There is an absolute absence of the active role by the political parties and their platforms on the political arena to be fully aware of the people's suffering and to adopt new policies for their issues. No action has been seriously taken by those parties for the benefit of the people. The lion's share of the GPC in those elections is a natural result gained with the absence of real partisan healthy competition.
The GPC's vast majority couldn't be ascribed to the powerful organization it has. As a ruling party, it might be one of the most parties at the political arena which suffers in this regard due to its open structure at grass-root level. The GPC have been fully versed in the tribal and social context along with popularity of its leadership which is parallel to or outnumbers that popularity.
On this account, the tribal and clan forces are closely related to tendencies of the ruling party.

Coalition unstuck
In order to establish a very strong opposition in the parliament, the new parliament clearly reflected the tribal and political challenge before the opposition parties. The political parties during the post-election period, have been a complete a fiasco. The YSP and Islah party haven't only opposed, but they also called for bringing the ruling party together. Coalition matters have become more complicated during the post-election period after counting votes. Following the 27 April election results, the exasperating situation aimed at all the opposition parties has become a source of irritation.
As consequence of internal challenges and disorders that have taken place during the election results as well as the regional and international current developments, those parties might resort to calm down the political game with the ruling party.
Geographically, election constituencies have been distributed on the basis of the population census and the election results have mostly revealed that the geographical distribution totally depends on constituencies and not the parliaments' tendencies.
As for the cultural aspects, the level of nominees' culture has relatively improved. This manifests itself when more that 8 million registered their names and more than 5 million electors cast their votes during the polling day. This also bears a testimony of vivid demographic improvement.
Regardless of other detailed factors controlling the final election results, the ever-increasing GPC and Islah members of parliament in both eastern and southern governorates, an oriented positive indication to enhance democracy, has been felt.
The question is what is the future of democracy in Yemen? To answer this question within the current prevailing conduits, we have to reconsider things seriously and to be fully aware to analyze the regional and international phenomena. We have to b brave enough to diagnose our reality and pinpoint defects and mistakes. To draw an image on the future of democracy in Yemen, it is important to study outcomes of the reality throughout thirteen years.
Democracy in Yemen is the production of the Yemeni unification in 1990. The future of democracy in Yemen depends totally on availability of real conviction in democracy and its complete organization. It depends on political parties' exerted efforts to struggle for making their issues a vivid. I'm not pessimistic here but I have just scrutinized the social context where there isn't enough space for optimism.