Remembering Yemen After the 1994 Civil War [Archives:2001/32/Law & Diplomacy]

August 6 2001


Jalal Al-Sharabi
Yemen Times
The second phase of the life of the unified Yemen’s started following the 1994 civil war after which the political map was changed drastically. With the defeat of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) and escape of its leaders to outside the country, the General People’s Congress (GPC) joined hands with the Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party (Islah) of the Islamic ideology. This coalition played an important role in defending unity against the separation movement declared by the Secretary General of the YSP during the 1994 war.
The second phase is characterized by a series of political changes and social and economical reforms that burdened people. At the same time, the victories party, namely the GPC had a chance to amend the constitutional articles according to its interests. Settling accounts also took place on a wide scale including many personalities which stood by the YSP during the conflict with the GPC.
Big Challenges and Deterioration of the Politics and Democracy
The phase that followed the civil war was different to that before the war. The GPC, led by the current president Ali Abdullah Saleh became the sole dominant party ruling the country. Even though the coalition partner Islah seemed to have a share of power at the beginning, it wasn’t long until it discovered that it was left outside the circle of power. Confusion of who is ruling and with whom, and to where the country is heading, was obvious during this period. Forming a government and treating the war aftermath were the most Tallinn’s tasks. There were also other political challenges which rose with the desire of the ruling party to amend the constitution and laws pertaining to Political parties and the press. Many socialist personalities who were holding high ranking positions were got rid of. Following this step, the government was formed by its PM Dr. Faraj bin Ghanem who is considered to be one of the most honest and independent people Yemen ever knew.
The Government After 1994
Many political observers believed that appointed Dr. Faraj b. Ghanem Prime Minister was an attempt by the GPC to abase the anger of the street and to put an end to the speeding cancer of corruption in all governmental offices. What strengthen this belief is the resignation of Dr. Faraj just a few months later as a result of the continuos interference of influential GPC leaders. Faraj’s resignation came after his plans to make changes in a number of ministries were rejected. His resignation was immediately approved and the authorities claimed that his resignation was for health reasons.
Despite the relief people felt with the appointment of Faraj b. Ghanem, the obstacles and challenges posed in his way and his resignation filled them with total disappointment.
More Damage to Unity
The Civil War resulted in great damage to Yemen’s unity. Many southern governorates showed their dissatisfaction with and disappointment at the officials appointments, who were mostly from northern regions. As a result, many southern officials who used to hold high ranking positions left the country. Amid this political confusion many democratic features disappeared. Many limits and strains were imposed on pluralism and press freedom.
Some of the opposition parties were accused of siding with the YSP and could have been potentially accused of being traitors. This made them act more cautiously during this period and their political speeches were not so clear. Despite the President’s amnesty following victory on July 7, 1994 there was more and more to heal in the relationships between the GPC and YSP.
A great part of the damage to unity resulted from settling down old accounts openly carried out by the victorious side against the defeated. At the same time, other opposition elements who assisted the victorious party during the war were rewarded.
The war was over, but it left people in miserable economic condition. The question of Missing In Actions (MIAs) was the talk of the common people. Many people in the south lived in deplorable condition totally different to that of the people in the north. During the first four years of unity, not a great deal of changes happened to the people of the south whose properties were still nationalized. This is what made the war and its aftermath a living fact.
Resignation of Faraj’s Government & the Formation of A. A. Ghani’s Government
Following the resignation of the government of Dr. Faraj b. Ghanem, President Saleh appointed Mr. Abdulaziz Abdulghani to form the new government which continued until the second parliamentary elections in 1997.
This government was characterized by motionlessness and less interactions with people. The Financial and Administration Reform Program was implemented by this government leading to hikes in prices.
Abdulaziz Abdulghani, one of the qualified economists in the country, was a prime a minister before unity who gained the people’s respect for his moderate positions. The government that came after the parliamentary elections of 1997, was under direct pressure carrying out dictated decisions even if they were unconstitutional. No significant improvements were witnessed during this period. Inflation, emergence of more corrupt powers in ministries were the most prominent characteristics of this government. This period was also characterized by political bargains with its ally the Islah. A number of ministries were given to the Islah party which gradually exploited this chance to employ a great number of its members in its ministries. It worked on establishing a solid political base by conducting a number of projects in some of the areas and helping facilitate difficult procedures and routines.
This period witnessed a rapid spread of Islah elements in the educational offices. The Islah party was considered the strategic ally of President Saleh who used the religious institutes controlled by the Islah as a winning card in elections, parliament, etc. Two ministers of the Ministry of Trade and Supply resigned saying that they could not continue, but many observers considered this step as a political plan to get ready for the parliamentary elections in 1997.
Parliamentary Elections 1997-1999
The second parliamentary elections took place in 1997. This time the event was different than that of the 1993 elections for there was only one party, Islah, playing the role of the strong competitor. Coordination between Islah and GPC resulted in having them share the parliament. The other opposition parties won only 7 seats.
Many violations occurred before and during the 1993 elections. More then half a million of false names appeared in the voting lists and the election committees were mostly GPC. All opposition parties condemned the mechanism of managing and controlling the election process.
The result was a great victory of the GPC over its ally, Islah. The government was formed by the GPC who had the majority of MPs.
The YSP’s boycott of the 1997 elections was justified by absence of a national reconciliation, mass participation of military elements, and the false names of voters and impartiality of the Supreme Elections Committee.
As far as the remaining opposition parties including the Nasserite Unionist, Baath, and Al-Haq parties, were concerned, they won only 7 out of 301 seats.
Al-Iryani’s Government
Having the majority of MPs (more than two thirds of the seats) the GPC appointed Dr. Abdulkareem Al-Iryani, Prime Minister. This government pursued the reform program which filled people with anger. Al-Iryani also pursued his mission in relation with the Yemeni-Saudi border in a calm manner that is different than what he used to. However, he could not continue and left the whole issue for his minister of foreign Affairs, Bajammal who became the Prime Minister since the beginning of 2001. This government was more concerned about the political side and preparation for the Presidency elections that took place in 1999.
1999 Presidential Elections
The presidential elections were a result of many opposition parties’ demands. The only opposition nominee was Ali Saleh Obad, the secretary general of the YSP. However, he did not win the parliamentary endorsement required to qualify for presidency elections, stipulated by the constitution at 10%. Since the law necessitates availability of two candidates, the GPC also nominate Najeeb Qahtan Al-Shaabi, member of the parliament, who is also a member of the GPC just as a decoration to run the presidential elections as required by the law. With the absence of the participation of the opposition parties, President Saleh won more than 96% of the total votes.
Many voices were raised during this period to make serious reform in economy and to reach a national reconciliation.
Local Council Elections, 2001
The local council elections which were carried out on the 20th of February, 2001 were signalling for a potential breakthrough in the political map of Yemen. Those elections had proven that Islah still constitutes a threat to the rule of the GPC as Islah gained a significant percentage of local councils scattered all over the country. Its domination was clear in areas such as Mareb and Ibb governorates. The party flexed its muscles when it won the district surrounding the presidential palace in the city of Taiz.
Even though Yemenis were given the right to choose their representatives in the parliament, but not in their respective local councils, they have expressed their desire for pushing for a change in the political map of Yemen. The unexpected results of Islah caused great concern for the GPC which admitted that it needed to change its tactics for the upcoming parliamentary and local council elections in 2003.
These elections were characterized with excessive violence leading to the death and injury of tens of civilians.
Whatever shortcomings that occurred during the different stages of unity, no one could deny that unity was a great historical achievement for Yemen. There are many misbehaviors which try to tarnish the image of unity. These must be tackled and corrected. It may be true that the GPC is still abusing democracy by exploiting its power and authority to keep in power. However, correcting the situation is a must that should be the concern of both rulers and the opposition. Unity is a great achievement that has brought about pluralism, freedom of expression, etc. But these concepts need more attention and encouragement for the country to flourish and practice democracy in the right way.