Preliminary reading on presidential elections [Archives:2006/937/Opinion]

April 13 2006

By: Mustafa Rajeh
In a country like Yemen, it is very difficult to predict how events will be in light of experiences on the political scene. Until now, there have been no well-established democratic traditions to be respected by parties in the political game and the decision still is being made behind the scenes and away from democratic institutions seeming to have a formal role. The upcoming presidential elections are considered a turning point due to interpret the confusion of the ruling party, the opposition and public opinion.

Electing Yemen's president this September is a prominent event due to influence all activities and events thoroughly detected from a tight corner. This event will be interpreted as part of the contenders' electoral campaigns, even if there is no direct or closer relation between the event and these campaigns.

The two players in current political life are: the regime under President Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 28 years, and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), including opposition parties like the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) and the Islamic Islah Party. Between the two sides is a hall staging logical events. Teachers protesting and demanding the government increase their salaries have been accused of party activities in favor of the opposition, which began its electoral campaign in many fields other than education, according to ruling party and official media.

Both parties in the political process seemed to break relations, as the ruling party refused opposition demands to reform the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER). Now we read the situation by counting the two parties' points following wins and losses and therefore, the situation projects what will happen in coming months.

Authority's stance is reflected in its satisfaction at deciding to form electoral management committees from civil service job applicants instead of involving political parties. The authority works hard to continue dialoguing with the opposition, as it considers dialogue an ideal means to exhaust the opposition without reaching consensus.

Such behavior never will avoid loss. Conducting elections in this manner increases doubt about their credibility and weakens the political process in general. The authority is advised to conduct polls in an atmosphere of harmony with opposition political forces.

According to YSP Secretary-General Yasin Sa'eed Numan, the JMP has two options set by the authority: crisis or bargain. The former will be manifested if the two parties' relations worsen and opposition attracts the public to back its demands. Under the latter (bargain), opposition will obtain private interests while demonstrating a flexible attitude toward upcoming elections.

Opposition faces two choices: adhere to its stance concerning SCER reshuffling and boycott upcoming presidential polls or participate in the poll, regardless of reservations. Boycotting Yemeni polls, as the YSP did in 1997 parliamentary elections, has proven a negative option. Forces boycotting elections are satisfied to stay at home, neglecting the fact that boycotting polls requires harder and more demanding work than participation. This is important for political forces in order not to find themselves isolated.

The authority prefers opposition's boycotting the polls to its competition. Participating in elections presents two options, one of which is that opposition nominates a weak candidate, considered as part of its bargain with the authority. The other option is that opposition selects a candidate meeting all requirements for a strong racer, in this case gaining street credibility and confidence for being serious, regardless of who wins.

The presidential candidate is expected to meet strong requirements, as the measure on the part of voters will be a referendum of sorts on current situations. With voters realizing that President Saleh's remaining in power will never change the current situation, they will vote for other candidates. At this point, the opposition candidate will be assessed not only by its win, but also by its respectful loss when he or she obtains 30 percent of votes.

It is time we shed light on evidence predicting how upcoming presidential polls will be conducted:

1. A majority of the public refuses current policies, as manifested in last July's protests, which proved that there are plenty of reasons behind public anger. However, the protests revealed that opposition absented itself from organizing protestors. These facts place the political system with its two poles – the ruling party and the opposition – under a single question mark.

2. Upcoming presidential elections will be conducted with President Saleh losing political allies he has relied on for a long time. Saleh has been set apart with the Islamist current represented by the Islah Party, which joined the JMP. He also broke relations with former South Yemen President Ali Nasser Mohamed, who enjoyed a large number of supporters. The social fissure left by the two-year Sa'ada events tells Hashimi peoples that they are targeted by the authority. The event coincided with a state of animosity and antagonism between the regime on the one hand and opposition, the civil community, journalists and teachers on the other.

3. Increased tension of the opposition abroad includes Ali Nasser Mohamed Abdullah Al-Asbahi, Ahmad Al-Hassani, Abdullah Sallam Al-Hakimi and Abu Baker Al-Attas. These figures have no positive roles unless there is strong opposition presence to bridge the gap left by the authority. All political possibilities remain open until September 23, awaiting the game's two sides to announce their racers.

Mustafa Rajeh is a Yemeni journalist.