JMP & PGC: Confrontation or compromise? [Archives:2006/940/Opinion]

April 24 2006

By: Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
[email protected]

The dialogue between the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and the People's General Congress (PGC) has been fluctuating without any concrete results.

After a meeting with president Saleh, the opposition and the PGC went to agree on setting up a committee composed of legal experts and academicians to monitor the job of the elections committee. Suddenly, the ruling party apologized and said the agreement should be called off. The opposition held the PGC accountable for the failure of several rounds of dialogue to overhaul the elections administration. This fluctuation of the dialogue shows a visible problem inside the PGC itself, being unable to conduct agreements without the approval of the big man, President Saleh.

In fact, the regime is not serious about the dialogue and wants to confuse and exhaust the opposition, wasting the time as it is few months and the candidates for the presidential office have not been named yet.

In an unprecedented move, the JMP has been able to maneuver and stand against all sorts of pressure exercised by the ruling party. It even announced that they will go ahead in their joint work to challenge the PGC. The position of the opposition has become a bit stronger with the announcement of the Islah, an old ally to Saleh's regime, that it will not let the other parties down and has solo agreement with the PGC. Of course, the backlash of the ruling party was strong and went to accuse the JMP coalition of attempting to overthrow the regime with a foreign support.

The JMP feels that it is being embroiled into two choices only: either to confront and go into even a crisis or compromise with the PGC. Both the two choices are challenging and of grave consequences. The opposition is just starting its joint work and therefore, needs enough time to prepare itself and make the people confide its new tendency and that it is serious this time. The decision to face and challenge the PGC and Saleh's regime might embroil them into the tumult of crisis which Yemen, with its heavy economic challenges, is no longer prepared to face. The other choice will mean that the opposition is committing suicide and that the rest of its reputation among the public will be completely damaged. At this particular time, the opposition needs to work hard to restore the public trust in its ability to challenge and open a little window of hope for them in the possibility of change. If they bargain, their future is really at stake.

At the same time, the passive boycott of the JMP will bring about a number of negative consequences. It will push the ruling party to work towards a fair and free election, putting the opposition in a fix before the international community. But, this might push the international community to think about the uselessness of an election void of any real race. The passive boycott will hit the opposition very strongly increasing the momentum of frustration among the public of the fruitlessness of multiparty system and democracy at large. In fact, it will kill the margin of democracy which has been gradually backsliding due to the dominance of the PGC over the parliament, making it toothless and unable to hold the government accountable.

But it seems the coalition of the opposition is serious this time, following the announcement of the Islah, the strongest old alliance of the Saleh regime, that it will no longer take individual decision and that it is obliged to the decision of the coalition. The opposition even threatened that it would call for protests, strikes of the people to pressure the regime to accept the demands of the change of the elections committee. Their demand also went beyond this to the overhauling of the elections system at large. This is a completely different discourse of the opposition parties which have a bad reputation in making individual deals with the ruling party by the end of the day.

The opposition wants to show they have changed and is serious about their demands for political reform and participation in elections; the joint meeting which they held two weeks ago in Sana'a for the leaders of their parties in the governorates is seen as a launch for their elections campaign and the solidarity of their joint work. But this depends on their decision to go ahead with this issue and challenge Saleh truly. This will be tested by their nomination of their candidate who will challenge Saleh, no matter whether he wins or loses.

Besides, the strong stand of the opposition is a good pointer of the breakdown of Saleh regime's old allies. It has lost Islah party which named him as its candidate for presidential office in 1999 even before the PGC itself. Islah announced that it will not let its partners down and conducts deals with the PGC.

All these make all the possibilities, including the postponement of the elections, open.