Let’s do it and let’s do it well [Archives:2006/982/Opinion]

September 18 2006

Hamdan Dammag
In two days, Yemenis will participate in the first truly challenged presidential election, as well as their second local council elections. One thing they must remember – and be proud of – is that on Wednesday they will execute a new national achievement in their modern history because it's the first time they have a direct say in who's going to be the next president. People must be proud despite several challenges the election process has faced recently, including the loss of Yemeni lives during the candidates' campaigns, or potential problems on election day or afterward.

National achievements in modern history

Establishing the republican system four decades ago was the first in a series of achievements aimed at changing the miserable life of Yemeni citizens, who were in a critically bad situation under the brutal rule of the Imams, sultans and the British occupation. Being the first and still the only one of its kind in Arabia, the republican system was an advanced achievement in itself and enabled another national achievement to follow in 1990 with the unity and declaration of the Republic of Yemen.

Since then, Yemenis have been trying to realize their third national achievement – democracy. Along with democracy comes freedom of press and free elections. Despite challenges in recent years, Yemen has achieved a free press so journalists usually will state, “It's ok, but not enough,” which is a rather good level, considering the past and surrounding regional totalitarianism. Journalists indeed will push further.

Nevertheless, free elections have lagged behind and faced ups and downs in recent years. The 1999 presidential election was rather disappointing to Yemenis' expectations at that time and would've been a major drawback to Yemen's path to democracy if it wasn't the first presidential election in Yemen's history.

Participation is the key

The upcoming elections undoubtedly are more promising this time because of real competition in both the presidential and local council elections. Of course, we continue to witness wrong practices, but things are much better than before and even international observers agree.

However, the problem with the previous elections not only was their level of fairness, but also citizens' negative attitude toward the election process itself.

There was even a sense of indifference among academics, students and civil society activists, who didn't engage enough in the elections. Most didn't even vote on election day, not because they were among those boycotting the elections for political reasons, but because they simply felt it was useless to participate.

Although Yemeni citizens seem more enthusiastic about these elections, it's imperative that all registered voters participate on Wednesday, including those who still wrongly believe there's no use. We must all realize it's our chance to freely and positively determine our future president and our local councils. And, in fact, it's our duty to do so.

Positive voter participation in two days is the true indicator of election success. Those who seek change in Yemen's political life, those who believe the competing alternative to the current regime is worse and even those with a different viewpoint must all participate in these elections rather than hanging back or waiting for the results and becoming disappointed.

Ultimate goal: free and fair elections

The upcoming election is a national merit and in itself can become a national achievement for Yemen and also a political achievement for both the ruling General People's Congress and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties. This achievement will be met if holding free and fair elections is the ultimate goal rather than who wins.

Hamdan Dammag is a computer scientist, a Yemeni poet and a journalist. He is the managing editor of Yemen Times.