Senior JMP leader Mohammed Qahtan to Yemen Times:Serious reforms necessary to solve Yemen’s current turmoil [Archives:2008/1204/Reportage]

November 3 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
Yemen is undergoing a critical standoff and stronger efforts are needed from all effective political parties and organizations in Yemen, politicians, intellectuals and educated elite to secure the country against future potential threats to national unity and stability. According to the Yemeni opposition, the country's current turmoil is the result of a lack of serious political will to carry out comprehensive reforms, coupled with poor policies pursued by the ruling party.

Various press interviews with active political leaders have shed light on several pressing issues in the nation, the most prominent of which are the upcoming parliamentary elections, the case of military retirees in the southern governorates, rampant corruption in all the state's institutions, and terrorism. For more information about why Yemen is experiencing such issues, the Yemen Times met with Mohammed Qahtan, a senior leader in the Islamist Islah Party, a member of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) known as the major opposition coalition in Yemen.

How do you view the currently pressing electoral issue? And which is the best solution to solve the issue: the old election system the authority is insisting on or replacing it with the proportional list?

The JMP has announced on more than one occasion that the authority is acting illegally and its attempt to individualize the electoral process (encouraging the ruling party to run in the elections alone) is illegal too. JMP member parties decided to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections earlier. But now, we insist that Yemen carry out a comprehensive electoral reform. This is our unchanged position on the basis of which we will talk with the media, ruling General People's Congress or the authority.

We have heard about an ongoing dialogue between JMP and the authority on numerous issues. Can you brief us on this dialogue?

The currently pressing problems need no further dialogue. We already discussed with the authority and reached an agreement to undertake a serious reform package, and what remains now is implementing such a proposed and bilaterally agreed-upon reform package.

With regard to the issue of military retirees in southern governorates, we admit that it is very critical and requires all effective political parties and organizations, intellectuals, senior politicians and educated elite to deal responsibly with the matter in order to avoid potential threats that may hurt the nation's unity and fragment its future generations.

We are experiencing a critical crisis. Consequently, all the conventional means routinely used by the government to resolve problems are no longer useful for the time being. We have two options before us: implement serious political reforms or face unprecedented collapse. Undertaking serious comprehensive reforms is necessary to solve the current political turmoil in Yemen.

Do you think that the demands raised by military retirees in the southern governorates are legal or political?

What takes place in southern and eastern governorates warns of a real humanitarian and political catastrophe. And the demands listed by military retirees in these governorates are both political and legal. It is impossible for anyone to bring a ready-made remedy to cure their issues. However, under unity and democracy, we have to sit together with some of these retirees, listen to their demands and concerns, and then conduct a serious national dialogue to solve their issues.

How do you assess the current turmoil in Yemen?

The current turmoil in Yemen is symptomatic of the lack of serious political will to implement comprehensive political and electoral reforms. In addition, the poor policies pursued by the ruling party and its government continue to worsen the situation. The authority has proved it was unable to settle the crisis and fight rampant corruption in the various government offices, which is why the turmoil continues to worsen.

How can the government fight rampant corruption in almost all the state's institutions?

Corruption in Yemen has been encouraged by a lack of responsible and honest leaders to exert strong efforts to fight such irresponsible behavior. The combination between government service and trade activities constitutes the main cause of rampant corruption. The famous Arab sociologist Ibn Khaldoun stated hundreds of years ago that a combination between government service and trade is responsible for corruption, adding that this phenomenon destroys societies. He pointed out that a government cannot perform well if its officials exercise trade.

We want to fight corruption and encourage 'clean hand' servants in the various government offices. However, we need not use the expression “eliminate corruption” as such is impossible to achieve even in the long term unless corrupt individuals are eliminated, which is impossible too. Therefore, the expression should be changed to “reform corrupt individuals” and rehabilitate them in order to help the government start fighting corruption step by step

The ruling party and its government don't have the serious political will to reform the nation's dire situation, enhance transparency and accountability, activate oversight over public funds and property and question any officials who embezzle public funds. Regretfully, I am pessimistic that the ruling party's current policies will help to resolve the crisis.

How do you view terrorism and poor security in some Yemeni governorates?

I think that the security issue concerns all Yemenis. I personally support the serious procedures taken by the authority to enhance security. I don't cast doubt on the authenticity of media reports and government statements that Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for some terrorist attacks in Yemen. Apparently, Osama Bin Laden and Aiman Al-Dhawahiri, top Al-Qaeda leaders, are responsible for the most recent terrorist operations in the country. According to the official media, security agents found that terrorists were in possession of large sums of money in hard currency when arrested or killed, and that this money might have come from Al-Qaeda leaders abroad.

Is it true that there are discrepancies between JMP member parties, which hinder them from reaching unanimous agreements on various matters?

First of all, these illusions and false facts are produced by the ruling party. Any alleged discrepancies or differences between JMP members are baseless and inauthentic. All the JMP members -the Islah Party, the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Nasserite Unionist Popular Organization, the Al-Haq Party, the Popular Forces Union and the Baath Party- are strongly committed to their unified programs and objectives.

In the JMP, we unanimously agreed to adopt the proportional list, and therefore remain committed to the recommendations released by the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) after the 2006 elections. We and the ruling party undertook to implement these recommendations, apply the proportional list and signed an agreement in this regard. The agreement stipulates that each party must abide by these recommendations.

JMP member parties sometimes differ in their viewpoints, but these reflect a positive feature in the opposition coalition. When we sit together, we are sometimes presented with six different viewpoints and six different experiences, but these enrich any ongoing dialogues held by JMP member parties, and help them to reach agreements on various issues.

Do you think that the JMP will not rescind its decision to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections if the ruling party doesn't change its position in rejecting the proportional list?

JMP member parties decided to boycott the upcoming elections since the ruling party breached an agreement it had signed with the opposition parties to reform the election system as recommended by the EUEOM. We insist that the electoral system be reformed based on a binding agreement signed by the ruling and opposition parties irrespective of the EUEOM recommendations.