Silver LingingRespect the people choice [Archives:2006/980/Opinion]

September 11 2006

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The US ambassador to Yemen Thomas Krajeski told al-Wasat newspaper that what matters in the upcoming presidential and local elections is that Sept. 20 is a day wherein the Yemeni voters choose their candidates freely. The European Union Chief Observer Baroness Emma Nicholson also underscored the fact that the choice of the people should be respected.

Yes, it is the people who can decide who will win if they are not influenced by different means. Both the ruling party and the opposition should respect this choice no matter what results we have at the end of the day. But, I am afraid the people's choice might not be respected and things could go on the wrong track.

I already voiced concerns that the elections could be violent. We then saw violence in Al-Jawf. The discussion between the two sides is getting more intense each day and it is scary as it sends shock waves down the spines of the people. I have noticed some of the rhetoric is exaggerated and unwise. President Saleh has been right in saying such sensational discourse might lead to congestion and grave consequences, but this needs to apply to both sides.

In any election, there must be a loser. This is the essence of democracy. However, I am afraid the ruling party supporters will fight vigorously and passionately to try to defeat the opposition candidate down to the ground. In this fight, stupid acts are likely which, of course, will force the opposition candidate supporters to fight back. Such tense fervors make violence possible. Competition should not by any means turn into hostility and then dismissal of the loser.

As a matter of fact, the severe attack and counterattack by the two sides, mainly the ruling party, makes me feel we are going to war rather than voting. However, I feel very grateful to both the ruling party and the opposition for allowing this debate to take place. Debate also took place prior to the first parliamentary elections in 1993. There was a lot of dynamic discussion heralding the new era of democracy. However, the country was embroiled into political crisis and eventually a devastating civil war which halted both democracy and development at large.

Now democracy is back and the ongoing debate is pushing it forward. This step is inviting a good impression from everybody. But, the challenge of both the ruling party and the opposition is to face the consequences of such experience and to lead the country after all the tension. The real challenge is not to let the people's ambitions down. The ordinary people who are proactive with this unprecedented experience should not feel they are destroying their lives. Democracy should be a source of hope rather than despair and having more debates on TV will occur in the future. The confidence of people in the electoral process should be strengthened. As I said last week, the experience of the opposition coalition is very important and should be protected for it is the opposition challenge to Saleh that has given us this democratic mosaic we live through these days.

Finally, I would say that I was really shocked by the blatant statement of Abdu Al-Janadi of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum in which he said, “If I were the president of the state, I would have cut democracy short and jailed al-Azab (a presidential candidate) for what he says in the halls.” He means that the man has crossed the limit in his elections campaign speeches for which he deserves to be imprisoned. We cannot expect such a statement from an elections commissioner. He should show impartiality. He not only justified the attacks by Saleh on the opposition but even provoked anger. This is not his job – his job is to monitor and criticize any side that violates the rules of the game. Both of them are making mistakes and the role of the SCER is to administer elections with impartiality. Al-Janadi, who has been urging the two sides to tone down their rhetoric should take his own advice and work for the voters. This shows the overall interest of the democratization drive as the SCER impartiality will be assessed intentionally and by domestic observers. It is the SCER's legal and ethical responsibility to ensure fair and free elections for the better of Yemen's future.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.

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