Political reform: Our gate to the future (2/2) [Archives:2005/840/Opinion]

May 9 2005

By Ali Saif Hassan
Ways to reform the Executive Authority:

I start with the Republic Presidency which lies on top of the Executive Authority. Authorities invested in it are not limited to those bestowed by the Constitution. However, it also enjoys more fundamental authorities for those extracted from the ever-accumulating political, culture and social tradition. Such accumulation is biased towards authority and influence but it disregards liability and accountability. Its stark foible lies in unclear definition of the relationship between the Republic Presidency and the government. Problems have not surfaced yet because both the President and the Prime Minister are from the same party. However, the democratic system will lead to a state where they are from different parties. At that time, the current lack of obvious and accurate definition of the relationship between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister will result in serious problems. Prior to discussing such relationship, national agreement should be reached to decide upon the best presidential system fitting our situation. Here, I would like to indicate that democratic presidential systems of the world are: the US presidential system, the parliamentary system and French complex system the latter of which our system resembles. The French system, because of its complicated nature, requires a high degree of political awareness as it is the casein Franc currently. I believe that Yemen needs a less complicated and simpler system and that the parliamentary system best meets our needs as well as political and social reality.

Regardless of the agreed presidential system, basic principles and conditions of acceptably free and competitive elections according to approved international standards should be ensured.

The second layer of the Executive Authority is the government whose major defect is the absence of obvious and clear constitutional provisions to give the party/parties with the majority of parliament seats to form the government. Local authority, however, as a third layer of the Executive Authority has no legal right to executive authorities enough to implement its duties. Add to that, its systems is undemocratic: Chairmen of local executive authorities who are district directors and provincial governors are not elected. They are directly appointed by the President of the Republic.

Today, the Yemeni people are deprived of the right to elect the president of the republic, district directors nor provincial governors. Executive authorities must be completed and citizens should be allowed to elect their direct rulers.

In addition to that above shortcomings, the Executive Authority as a whole suffers a serious fault and obstacles which is lack of constitutional and legal protection from the influence of each upper layer: authority of the district must be protected from the authority of the province; the latter must be protected from the influence of the central government; the government needs to be protected from the influence of the President of the Republic.

Concerning the Legislative Authority, it currently has what we may call a two-room system but with inconspicuous responsibilities. The first room, which is the Parliament, is almost complete with definite characteristics in terms of assignments and specialties. Nevertheless, the current electoral system and executive practices during elections limit equal and fair chance of all political system's parties to have access to the Parliament and weaken the stance of Ruling Party's members before the Executive Authority.

The other room, which is the Shura Council, is a shapeless immature entity with unclear goals, ends and duties. Besides, its system is undemocratic, as its members are not elected but are appointed directly by the President of the Republic. This requires discussion and agreement regarding its nature and structure.

The Judicial Authority is another matter. We are in a bad need for a constitutional judiciary with perfect provisions and active performance going beyond the present limits of the Supreme Court's Constitutional Circle. Taking into account the current situation of the higher judicial authority, we cannot speak about judicial autonomy which is the most vital constitutional principle in democratic systems. The Supreme Judicial Council is chaired by the President, Head of the Executive Authority. The members of the Council are appointed by virtue of their judicial positions by the President including the Chairman of the Supreme Court and Public Prosecutor. Moreover, the whole members of the Supreme Court are appointed. This requires reconsideration of the structure of the Supreme Judicial Council and all sovereign judicial authorities so that they become autonomous and immune as a fundamental condition for judicial autonomy.

To close the door on women to enter judiciary is not only a flagrant violation of the constitutional provisions that assign men and women equal rights and duties but it also defaces and hobbles the Yemeni system. Since the graduates of the Higher Judicial Institute are the only people qualified to work for the Yemeni judiciary, women should be allowed a chance, equal to men, to join that Institute in order for them to be judges.

With this brief account of the desired political reform in the three Authorities of the State, three central issues of political reform have to be highlighted:

Women Issue:

In their collective mind, the Yemeni people highly esteem Yemeni women represented by Queen of Sheba, Bilqis, and Queen Arwa. The latter ruled Yemen in Medieval Islamic ages. However, the situation is not the same now. We have been overpowered by the surrounding culture and women's recent status is lower than that in medieval and ancient ages.

This issue requires a courageous national volition to improve women's current situation by adopting constitutional provisions that criminalize and prohibit discrimination against women as well as a national commitment to granting women adequate and increasing shares in all authorities formed by nomination and giving them an adequate share in elected authorities through an electoral system that helps achieve this end.

Electoral system:

Real political reform is impossible under the current electoral system which depends on single constituency basis. It is true that we have only recently understood modern political systems but even then nascent democratic communities have developed electoral systems that suit their conditions. Many international organizations specialized in this field are ready and able to assist us in developing an electoral system living up to our reality and ambitions.

Perhaps the dual system based on quota and single constituency is more appropriate for us. Parties may make use of the quota system to support women, political leaders and specialists. Single constituency systems will ensur8e that remote areas will have their representatives in elected councils.

It is unnatural that the current presidential electoral system considers Yemen as a single constituency not only for harvesting targeted results but also for voting. It is objectionable and unbecoming to cast votes at the presidential elections without voter lists.

Invariably, we will have to acquaint ourselves with specialized international experts so as to make all types of elections acceptably competitive and fair in accordance with international standards and for them to represent voters' resolution and aspirations and become a gateway to the peaceful transfer of power.

Armed forces and security:

The armed forces and security are socially respectable in Yemen. They held a high position during the previous decades due to the nature of the revolution's legitimacy of the time. However, today, and according to the democratic system based on principles of political plurality and peaceful transfer of power, they need to be relocated within the sovereign political system so that they comply with the conditions of the current political system. This issue also necessitates a political dialogue to reach a national consensus concerning the role and position of the armed forces within the system. They should not intervene in the political issues or competition among parties and should be directly governed by the civil government.

Finally I confirm that the hope to remove the shortcomings and perfect the Yemeni democratic system depends on the harmony and coordination between the national will and international partnership.