SILVER LININGOpposition & PGC deadlock and possible compromise [Archives:2008/1184/Opinion]

August 25 2008

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The failure of the ruling party PGC and opposition coalition JMP to reach a consensus on amendments to elections bill has demonstrated lack of confidence not only between the two sides but also among the JMP parties.

Islah party secretary general Abdulwahab al-Anisi was authorized by the JMP member parties to conduct dialogue with President Ali Abdullah Saleh over the elections law amendments and the elections commission.

The two sides' agreement did not, however, address the crucial issues the opposition was calling for, mainly the change of the elections system from single constituency into proportional one. This issue was said to have been moved to constitutional reforms package as changing the elections system requires constitutional amendments. It will be a part of a deal whereby Saleh agrees to the proportional system or part of it and the opposition accepts that Saleh's tenure in office would be considered from the upcoming constitutional amendments.

I think some traditional figures in the Islah like al-Anisi was pushing towards a compromise with Saleh because they are still psychologically tied to such kinds of mechanisms to reach their gains; in other words, they lived up with such a tradition. But, other figures in the Islah are not overburdened with personal gains and therefore, were not satisfied with the slight amendments to the elections law.

At the same time, Islah is bridled with its coalitions with the socialist party which is the one that crippled the Saleh-Anisi agreement. It was difficult for the Islah or Nasserite party to take any decision without the socialist consent as this will lead to the split of the JMP which would serve the goals of the ruling party. Any division would drive the socialist to be a regional party representing the south. At the same time, it will be difficult for the socialist to go ahead with any compromise without addressing the prisoners of the wave of protests in the south. This is why the socialist refused to name its representatives to the elections commission and stuck to the record of the prisoners as the safety belt that would make the party which has been facing hard times since the 1994 civil war look as a political entity that still holds records to play with, bringing it closer to the people in the south and their woes.

I understand Islah is not with the option that JMP boycotts the elections next April. Participation of the JMP in the elections also serves the interest of the ruling party because without the JMP elections become fruitless and will be a step backward for the Yemen's democratization efforts that are not already able to make more progress due to the current electoral system for the historical legacy of the tribe-based culture puts a few rich men in absolute authority over all women and most other men. The loopholes in the current electoral system limit the chances of opposition parties to gain the number of parliamentary seats that would boost their competitiveness.

This imbalance results in a toothless parliament that is all the time losing its ability to hold the government accountable.

I believe the opposition should stick to its demands to change the incumbent system that has contributed to weakening party pluralism. However, it seems the traditional force in the Islah party is not interested in this proportional system which will not bring up those religious leaders and influential tribal guys on board as the case now.

Despite the escalating bitter divisions between the ruling and opposition parties, a compromise is still possible for the boycott option is not favorable to the two sides both at the domestic and international levels.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected]) is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.