No great expectationsSo what if ourgovernors are elected? [Archives:2008/1151/Opinion]

May 1 2008

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
It is really hard to believe that the regime is still adamant on playing this phony game of “electing officials” to office. Is it not enough that the election process has proven to be no more than another leaky hole from which state funds are siphoned off to placate those who go along with this farce and mockery of democratic government.

So now the people of Yemen are being led to believe that with the election of the governors and the Mayor of Sana'a City, the regime has once again shown its commitment to democratic rule, a commitment that has yet to find the right language by which to have it translated into real life. This is because the game of democracy played in Yemen is simply incomprehensible to anyone who has truly seen democratic rule or truly enjoyed a democratic environment. It is time for the Government to face it and realize that Yemen has really never been further from being a democracy than the country is now. Notwithstanding all the elections we have had since our brothers from South Yemen insisted on democracy and political pluralism to be the underlying theme for governance, in order for the unification agreement to be signed in November 30, 1989, the truth of the matter is that the then and current leaders have never wanted to really have any democracy, or for that matter instill any idea of a peaceful transfer of authority, which is really what democracy is all about. For 18 years now we have had elections that were the epitome of ridicule for the voting process, with the ruling party and their allies playing as they like with the sacred votes of their people to come up with the results that would never put a dent on their absolute totalitarian stranglehold on government.

How many times have we elected the President, members of local councils and members of Parliament? Yet the latter do not even have the power to bring a Minister to the halls of Parliament and ask him why his Ministry was unable to clean up the horrendous corruption that fills the halls and alleyways of his ministry's headquarters and all its branch offices in the governorates and districts. Time and again the people are to present proof of any corrupt officials. All one has to do is just look at the fancy mansions of most of the senior echelons of Government (from Director General upwards), especially if they are cozy with the President and the other senior big wheels in the regime. In fact the new trend now is when a senior government official builds a “home”, one is amazed how the home now becomes a large complex of at least three fancy mansions, not to mention a compound wall that rises ten meters or so (probably electrocuted as well) and the fancy entrances and external trimmings (including stones most Yemenis never even knew existed in Yemen). In fact since we had democracy, we have seen more plush residences of Government officials go up than all the time since the last Imam was blasted out of his relatively very modest residence, when compared to the plush home of a third level functionary in the Prime Ministry!

So what will this new amendment to the Constitution to elect the Governors give the people of Yemen? If the background experience is any guidance, we will see the overwhelming number of governors coming from the ruling party, the General People's Congress (GPC) with maybe a couple from the Islah Party *Yemen Congregation for Reform) or even one or two from some of the other parties, just so we can assure the donors that there is some inkling of political pluralism.

But let us be honest with ourselves and for once with the people of Yemen. Even if all the Governors who become elected were not from the GPC, what could they do? The fact of the matter is that they can do very little if anything at all. With the Central Government still having control of 99% of public revenues and resources, most likely the “elected” governors will still be parading around the halls of the Ministry of Finance here in Sana'a seeking the release of their allocations for stationery in their already approved budget! The fact of the matter is that our centralized government will not release any authority sufficient enough to give these elected governors some maneuverability in carrying out their duties.

On another note, what difference does electing any senior officials make really if these officials are not subject to stringent accountability both for the performance of their responsibilities (and their exaggerated pledges at election time) and for the immaculate management of public assets and funds? This time the game has simply gone too far into making fools of the electorate and of the world at large, for anyone to really believe that the effort has any real genuine advantages in terms of good governance and clean and immaculate administrative reforms. It is more likely that this would only be used again by the never ceasing gnawing rats of corruption that have eaten away at the coffers of the treasury with every phony attempt to project democratic rule as Yemen sinks further into more repression, tighter leash on free expression and an ongoing unforgivable waste of resources. It is safe to assume that this mockery of democratic government is just another channel for the already over bloated officials, who were responsible for the horrendous waste of government funds in the past elections, to sweep up more government funds for the “election process”. One should not forget that there was once a fervent hope that those elections should have paved the way for getting rid of these political parasites once and for all, had those elections been really free and genuine. Let us ask this final question before going any further: How many corrupt officials or grossly incompetent officials – elected or appointed – have been really brought to account or to justice as the case maybe. The fact that we see the state of the country deteriorate day after day in almost all spheres of social dynamics, and as we see an actual increase in the mismanagement of rapidly dwindling resources economic and otherwise, one is convinced that there is no real hope from the regime, as it continues to drag the country from useless political game to the next, with or without elections. A word of advice to our leaders would be just carry on without having to make fools of the Yemeni people by having them give you a stamp of approval for the worst model of governance that Yemen has ever been under since anyone can remember, especially when every Yemeni knows well that the elections are rigged beyond belief.

Hassan Al-Haifi has been a Yemeni political economist and journalist for more than 20 years.