Presidential Elections: Need to Avoid Bi-Polarization [Archives:1999/22/Viewpoint]

May 31 1999

The presidential elections, no matter how you look at them, will be an important political exercise in our nation’s democratization process. But there are also problems associated with this process.
One of the most troubling aspects of the exercise is that it could lead to a bi-polarization of the nation along north-south lines. It is sure that current president Ali Abdullah Saleh is going to be the leading candidate. My worry is that the leading challenger will be a southern person – possibly a member of the former ruling oligarchy in the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. If this were to be the case, national unity and cohesion for Yemen will be tested one more time.
I want to hurry to announce that everybody has the right to run for the presidency, as long as he/she meets the requirements and conditions. There should be no veto against any single person.
But, I hope that the people of Yemen will not be pushed into a corner by being forced to vote along north-south lines. I just wish that the final list of contenders does not lead to that predicament for us. I hope the final list of serious candidates is not limited to a choice between two – a northerner and a southerner.
It doesn’t really mean much for Yemen’s unity if President Saleh wins, primarily by northern votes. That is, if the southerners mostly vote for his challenger.
So, if for example, the Yemen Socialist Party and its allied opposition parties nominate a well-known southern person to run against President Saleh – and that is their right – I hope a third candidate emerges to blur the north-south divide. The Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party (Islah) could possibly fill this gap. The idea is to nominate a well-known person that has an appeal to contingencies in both north and south, and who will offer a third alternative.
Whatever happens in the elections, the nation must be spared the agony of being pulled to either the north or south by feelings and sentiments. Our politicians must nurture a sense of belonging to the whole nation among our people. National unity and cohesion is an important factor in our future prosperity, peace and harmony.