SILVER LININGOpposition & Saleh political reforms proposal [Archives:2007/1090/Opinion]

October 1 2007

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The opposition coalition did a good job by rejecting President Ali Abdullah Saleh's call for a meeting to discuss crucial issues in the country. The opposition made a brave decision and everybody was happy about it as mainstream public opinion is that there is no genuine opposition and that all parties are just puppets at the hands of the president. The opposition justified its apology for the absence of an agenda for the meeting to which it was invited by phone.

I believe President Ali Abdullah Saleh succeeded last week in trapping the opposition coalition by forwarding his proposal for a package of political reforms. The proposal includes important reforms like the establishment of local police, local control of revenues and expenditures, direct elections for the heads of the local councils. It also cuts the presidential term to five years from seven, reduces the parliamentary term to four years from six and reserves 15 percent of the parliament seats for women. There is no doubt the proposal would boost democracy and broaden political participation.

The proposal might by a political maneuver by the president. The opposition has, however, to deal positively with the plan that takes in some of its demands. There is no ground for it to reject it entirely. This is, of course, a clever trick set by the president. I know the opposition has got an unpleasant experience from its long-aged stuck dialogue with the ruling party over most of these issues mentioned in this proposal. It should, however, take it seriously and make its feedback and comments and by this it would be able to put the president and his party in a fix. At the same time, the ruling party should deal with the opposition as a partner rather than a criminal engaged in troublemaking and thus should be held accountable. The opposition did a good job by staging protests to denounce economic hardships and corruption. It is good that people take to the streets and protest peacefully against the government's wrong policies. These organized peaceful protests could prevent loose violent actions like in Sa'ada. Therefore, it is crucial now the government seriously addresses the question of the retirees and land property. People need to see concrete actions instead of committees that work as pickle jars.

Yemen is truly facing sophisticated political and economic challenges. It is easy to address the political challenges through conducting some reforms as the proposal of Saleh entails. Nevertheless, to handle the economic challenges is the question. Ordinary people do not care whether the political system is parliamentary or presidential. They do care about foodstuffs and how to fill in their empty stomach. This is their primary concern right now. Such political reforms will not be fruitful unless juxtaposed with economic plans to address the economic hardships and corruption that really matter to everybody.

It is, in fact, very important that the ruling party and the opposition reach an agreement on political reforms to take democratic drive forward. This is because political stability is precondition for creating an environment for genuine and serious economic and administrative reforms to help tone down the tension putting the country at stake.

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