Learning a good democracy lesson [Archives:2006/978/Opinion]

August 4 2006

By: Mohammed Al-Qadhi
I am really thrilled to see the ongoing debates and arguments between the ruling party and the opposition coalition. It is truly good to see people with high ambitions being very serious about the challenge between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Faisal Bin Shamlan. Different methods are being used in this contest which is the first election race Yemen has ever seen.

Some people are very worried about the climax that such vigorous competition will lead towards; potential violence and fighting. This is true and I do share their concern over a tragic end for the tremendous festival we are seeing these days.

However, I can say that we are learning the best lesson in democracy. I realize some people are still in a state of awe and disbelief because they do not believe that people have the guts to go to the street and openly oppose the president who has been in office for 28 years.

The ongoing debates and media barrage between the two sides are a marvelous shift in our democratic drive because it allows people to exercise their rights to differ as long as different choices exist.

This debate, which has been going on for some years in print media but with limited reach, has now moved to the broadcast media owned by the state. Despite complaints and shortcomings, the broadcasting of the candidates' elections rallies is a big change for the people who have been listening and watching only the same rhetoric and the same man for along time.

I reported last Thursday the rally of President Saleh where I was amazed to see the streets of Ammran, the stronghold of Hashid tribe, colored with the posters of the opposition candidate. This is really interesting to see some tribal figures like Hamid al-Ahmer leading the rhetoric of change, but a peaceful change. This marks that Yemeni society is also going through a good experience in terms of changing the tribal and family alliances.

We have exercised democracy since 1990, but for the first time in our history the current presidential race is the one that is able to stir up the tribal and family alliances. I guess that al-Ahmer is playing an important role towards this transition. By lobbying with the opposition candidate, he is avoiding any tribal or sectarian coalitions which hamper efforts of democratization. The change of attitudes now visible, but I was not happy to hear some people at the rally frightening people that Yemen will fall into chaos if the opposition wins.

I understand also that the experience of the Joint Meeting Parties grouping is impressive. It is providing a good protection to democratic experience, as this makes it difficult for the ruling party to think of disbarring multiparty system.

The blessing of the ongoing motion is partially attributed to the ruling party who accept challenge from the opposition. It preferred the challenge other than any compromise.

By and large, I do not care as much about the results of the elections as I do care about this momentum which should continue after the elections are over. The opposition should maintain this grouping experience which can act a safeguard for democracy.

If it wins the ruling party should not manipulate its victory. The race should not by any means turn into hostility between the two sides. Both sides should respect the choice of the people and not spoil the blessing of democracy. For God's sake hold yourselves and let the people decide freely! For, a peaceful end to the elections means a victory for the country and the people at large.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.

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