Political reform: Our gate to the future (1/2) [Archives:2005/839/Opinion]

May 5 2005

By Ali Hassan Saif
“You have no time and don't think that someone is going to help you once your country collapses. You would be left alone.” This was the statement of Mr. Wolvinston, World Bank President, at a discussion meeting with Yemeni government in his last visit to Yemen.

“Administration has to stop Yemen becoming a failed country.” This was among the recommendations of US Presidency's Report for the year released by Washington Institute for Near East Studies.

Many people among whom is the writer of this article have warned of challenges ahead threatening the future of Yemen. I dubbed it “Yemeni Horror Equation,” and identified its sides as the impending exhaustion of Yemeni's most important resources including water and oil and the other side is the population explosion. Between the two sides falls corruption which serves as an effective catalyst and prevents the whole Yemeni society with its political, economic and social forces and citizens in general from participation and taking the initiative to cope with the challenges and stop Yemen's deterioration as well as to find out how to ensure a normal future based proportionately upon available Yemen's economic and human resources.

On the political level, all of us saw a historical political scene gathering together the Executive and Legislative Authorities represented by the Prime Minister accompanied by a host of ministers and the 412 members of Parliament and Shura Council, the overwhelming majority of whom are affiliated to the Ruling Party. Both sides held an exceptional meeting a few months ago to discuss the economic reform program of the government.

“The coming is more than bitter” was the last statement of Prime Minister's report read out before the congregation. The reply was “the present is more than corrupt and you are neither qualified nor reliable to carry out reform.”

That was the conclusion of the meeting. Later, both sides agreed to keep their interests intact by maintaining the current situation as it is. Thus, Yemen's official political scene froze with a present more than corrupt and future more than bitter.

Meanwhile, opposition's political scene represented by Yemen opposition parties' stance appeared as passively opportunist. In my opinion, that was the result of two factors: inadequate knowledge of most opposition leaders which made them unable to define and counteract the serious future challenges. They are unwilling and unready to think of alternatives to confront challenges. Due to the effect of this factor, many opposition leaders have seriously developed what we call the negative political opportunism. This value made them passively lurk waiting for the moment of collapse when each side mistakenly thinks it can rise to power, stop collapse, and face challenges with magical (delicious) solutions brought from beyond the limits of logic, science, and human power in general.

At this point, I have to note that a non-Yemeni reader may understand the nature of challenges before Yemen but may be puzzled at the stances of Yemen's system of government and opposition which I described above. Therefore, it is necessary to explain and practically prove what I mentioned by citing actual reactions of a sample of top government and opposition leaders to a research symposium proposal. A Political Development Forum's symposium was intended to be organized under the slogan “A Look at the Future,” to diagnose and study the major strategic challenges expected to face Yemen in the next ten years and to conjure them in front of the active and influential Yemeni decision-makers. The response of Ruling Party's top figures varied from utter ignoring of the invitation to acceptation followed later by declination.

However, an influential opposition leader was clearer and more candid, reflecting the reality I mentioned above. “All Yemenis , both statesmen and opposition, are not qualified and able to make use of accurate scientific diagnosis of future challenges. It is only nd ho will benefit from the result of such a symposium.”

His reply was enough to make us reconsider organizing the symposium and think of other ways to highlight those challenges and set them right in front of the political system. This article may be part of the alternatives.

In spite of this critical state of the political stance of the state and the opposition, and my belief that it is good to send alerts and conduct treatment by means of shocks especially when danger mounts to such a level as that posed by challenges set before Yemen by human needs and requirements, yet to satisfy oneself by mere identification of challenges is no less a peril than the challenges themselves. To spot fatal challenges in this manner would lead to a serious and negative consequence, exacerbating the sense of despair and hopelessness as well as the spirit of opportunism. It would tempt people to search for private rather than collective solutions. This would accelerate impetuousness and draw us closer to the point of collapse.

It is difficult and sensitive easy-to-upset equation. However, to put off facing up challenges and try to cover them is by no means an accessible alternative and it is a disgusting collusion with challenges and betrayal of one's knowledge.

Although, this abstract aims to expose future challenges and their seriousness in a proportionate way, I feel inclined to briefly list human and natural resources enjoyed by Yemen as well as political, cultural, and social resources that have been accumulating throughout Yemen's contemporary development era.

Natural, environmental, cultural, social and political diversity can provide the basis to cope with challenges. The prerequisites of any comprehensive development project include good governance, sound thinking, economization of natural resources, and meeting people's needs.

Now, I think, after this elaborate introduction, I have settled the dispute over whether Yemen needs reform or not and proved that reform is not a better alternative only: it is a question of existence.

WB President did not say “your government.” Similarly, the US Presidency's Report recommended preventing not the Yemeni government but Yemen from becoming a failure. This means that matter does not concern only the Yemeni government but the whole people. Facing challenges is the responsibility of the Yemeni society with all its political and social components. It is literally a national challenge.

The right and safe approach to tackle this challenge starts with adoption of a national political and cultural reform program to enable the Yemeni society to participate actively in political to encounter the historical challenge.

Overlapping between the cultural and the political in Yemen is so tricky and complicated that political and cultural reforms should go equivalently together.

Before going into the main theme, I think it is useful to share with you wisdom from India. The parable says that someone saw a large herd of elephants walking together in an organized way with only very thin string linking them. The person asked the elephants' owner how he could make the strong elephants disciplined with a thin string. The response was “When young, these elephants tried futilely to severe the string. They despaired to get rid of it and therefore have stopped trying that.”

This parable symbolizes clearly the situation in the disadvantaged countries deprived of freedom. We give ourselves up to a despair residing at the bottom of our psyche.

What I want to say is that it is time we shook off the obsession of our “thin string” which is feeble and decayed.

Here we go into the subject. First, I would rather point out the conditions of political reform included herein:

– It is crucial to agree about the nature of the current stage of building Yemen's democratic system. I believe that Yemen is still building and has not yet started running the democratic system. Running comes upon completion of construction. Two features distinguish the process of building form running the democratic system: a) all parties to the political system must contribute to this stage; b) presence of earnest and honest will in all parties to accomplish the task. Emphasizing the importance of all parties having the will, it is exceptionally important that his Excellency President of the Republic has the same will because he is the one possessing the political tools that can positively or negatively influence the program of completing the Yemeni democratic system. It is crucial that the national will for reform tally with the international partnership.

– The goal behind political reform program is to fulfill democratic transformation by the exceptional intervention of the collective national volition so as to provide Yemen's democratic project with the factors of survival and self-development. The main characteristics of the political reform program to be discussed later are basic in nature, presenting nothing but a general frame. They do not comprise the cultural, social, economic and administrative procedures of reform because such issues are determined by the diverse programs of political system's parties.

– The sincere implementation of these reforms in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Authorities will ensure the acceptable minimum of the most crucial basic principle in the democratic political system: separation and balance between the three authorities and rejuvenating them.