Opposition Condemns the government’s decision to increase Diesel prices BRACING FOR PUBLIC OUTRAGE [Archives:2001/31/Front Page]
The Yemeni political opposition parties decided Thursday to freeze dialogue with the government over a draft on election law amendments. A press statement released by the opposition said the move was taken in protest against the government’s decision to raise the price of diesel by 70%, i.e. now to be sold at YR. 17 a litre. The government has also decided to increase the salaries of civil servants by 15% and army personnel by 25%, effective from the beginning of August 2001.
It also said that farmers, the principal users of diesel, would be exempt from some taxes and supported in agricultural matters.
The opposition descried this action as fatal and said that the government should be held responsible for its consequences. The opposition also stated that the government hasn’t paid enough attention to the damaging effect this measure could have on ordinary people and that it has reached this decision in a rather deceptive way, thinking that the people’s silence would allow it to pass unnoticed and without any resistance. The press release mentioned that political opposition parties (including Islah) have decided to cease all dialogue with the government, on the basis that all talk of elections in such miserable conditions and widespread poverty is meaningless. They also claimed that government procedures do not involve finding solutions to the financial problems and poor living conditions of ordinary people, since the government itself is a heavy burden on the people, while corrupt officials at the centers of power use savings the government obtains from implementing such measures as a pretext to lift subsidies on oil products. The opposition says it has every right to protest against the decision through peaceful and democratic means so as to prevent its implementation.
However, the opposition presented their response to the government’s paper on the proposed amendments to election laws. They confirmed their adherence to their suggestions presented at the second round of talks with the government and insist on partisan representation at the Supreme Election Committee (SEC) as well as the independence of its budget. Last week the government offered its own viewpoint while ignoring those suggestions, claiming that the role of the opposition should be restricted to consultation only, since the GPC enjoys an overall majority in parliament and so can have its amendments endorsed. The opposition claimed that such amendments will undermine what is left of the democratic margin gained in 1990, which is now being drawn back. They also criticized the infringements which accompanied the recent elections and which put the ” constitutional institutions” in question. In this respect, the parliamentary cabinet minister of Shora Affairs, Alwaee Alattas, said that the government should present its draft for election law amendments to parliament by the end of September for both discussion and endorsement.
Political observers believe that the decision of the opposition to freeze its dialogue with the government is a political ploy, since it failed to thwart the amendments or at least make the government accept some of their proposals. The opposition can do nothing to cripple the amendments due to the overwhelming majority of the GPC in parliament.
The government raised diesel prices in June 1998 when Dr. Adulkareem Al-Eriani was Prime Minister. The price was increased by 20% ( i.e. from YR. 8 to YR 10 per litre), although price rises were at that time strongly opposed when thousands of people staged massive demonstrations in protest at the government’s decision. Clashes erupted between demonstrators and the police, and several people were either killed or injured.
Yemen has been conducting a reform package since 1995 in cooperation with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government lifted subsidies on foodstuffs and oil, causing great damage to ordinary people. The IMF believes the real price of one litre of diesel should be YR 34. The government still gives some subsidies to certain oil products like kerosene and mazot totaling YR 1.5 billion per month.
Mohammad Hatem Al-Qadhi.