Stats speaking outYemen, the fading democracy [Archives:2005/875/Reportage]

September 8 2005

By Hakim Almasmari
Yemen Times Staff
[email protected]

Going into the 21st century, Yemen pledged to put itself in the driver's seat on a mission to lead the Arab world to a more democratic way of life. By the early 90's and after the great unity, Yemen was on its way towards historical progress in a short period of time. Political parties were introduced, freedom of speech promised, a constitution based on Islamic values and democracy agreed upon, further guaranteeing a more prosperous future for this long seen suffering nation. Unfortunately and five years later, things changed to the worse, as the country took a U-Turn to the past.

Going back to what made the unity a granted success was the regimes promise to spread democracy; Furthermore, making democracy the cornerstone of the new unified Yemen. More than fifteen years ago, Yemeni's worldwide hailed the unity as an everlasting victory. They realized the importance of democracy as it teaches how to work together in the best interest of the nation. That means cooperation, collaboration, respect for the other, and the willingness to limit one's greed.

In the1993 elections, the ruling party occupied only 28% of the votes, while Islah, Socialist, and Independent parties each took home at least 17% of the overall votes, making the practice of democracy and multi party participation reach to an extreme. Eventually, and only four years later, things turned bad as four parties boycotted the elections, calling it unfair and undemocratic.

Women's participation in parliament started on a great pace, but gradually decreased. In 1990, women had a total of 8 seats. This number slowly and unnoticeably decreased to two members in 1997. Finally in 2003, only one member was left.

In the same year, the ruling party as well as the socialist party equally divided the 301 seats of parliament between themselves. Four years later, the number of seats occupied by the ruling party topped all opposition with 187. Then in 1997, it dramatically increased to 226 members. Now, and after the 2003 elections, the ruling party occupies the vast majority in parliament holding an unbelievable 250 seats of the possible 301. The reason? Fading democracy.

Since 1978, Yemen has only witnessed the era of one president. This in return, contradicts with what democracy teaches. The Arab world desperately needs democracy, human rights and more than all, an honest government.

In a poll conducted with 650 university students 72% described Yemen as a dictatorship regime, while only 12% admitted that democracy is what really runs the country.

A rare bright side to Yemen's democracy is the increasing number of participation in elections. Even though they realize that their vote cannot decide the outcome of the elections, due to unfairness, many still feel obligated and strive to give their vote willingly. Ironically even Israel's Arabs, whom are considered as 2nd class citizens, enjoy more political rights and freedom than those in Arab nations.

“The efficiency of democracy in Yemen today is exceptionally lower than what we were hoping for 10 years ago”, said a local activist. ” We were very excited about being the front runner for democracy in the Middle East”. Still, and even in such backward situations, life in general, and freedom in specific is more clearly noticed in Yemen than that of neighboring countries.

Going back to the last presidential elections, no real opposing candidate stood in front of President Saleh. The only other candidate running for presidency was awkwardly from the same party as the president. In result, the ruling party was competing with itself freely and openly.

Numerous parliament members are tribal leaders or wealthy businessmen who have no such understanding and experience in politics, not to mention democracy. Powerful tribes and Sheikhs repeatedly prove that they are the real force in this traditional and conservative country, possessing all sorts of weapons from machine guns to heavy artillery tanks and even warplanes. To such people, democracy is just an illusion and only the strong deserve to rule.

In the last elections, ruling party candidates spent millions of dollars advertising their campaign, while handing out unbelievable bribes to locals who could affect the outcome of the elections. Some bribes went as high as one hundred million Yemeni Rials! Hundreds of free vehicles were given to citizens throughout the country in connection with the advertising campaign. “During election period, democracy in Yemen seems more like hypocracy”, quoted a local activist. “Unfortunately, this is not what we were hoping for Yemen to be like the year of the unity”, he added.

Attacks on journalists have sky rocketed to an unpredictable level. Only recently was the Editor in Chief of Al- Wasat newspaper beaten and threatened to death. NGO's continuously receive threats and deal with numerous and false accusations. Human rights violations seen on a daily basis in all fields while they operate with difficulty. Things only seem getting worse.

The President of the Republic Ali Abdullah Saleh, could end up reviving the spirit of democracy in Yemen, while on the other hand granting himself a place in history. His announcement of stepping down from presidency after the next presidential elections was historical, furthermore giving hope to this thirsty country for a chance to see a better tomorrow. Could this finally open the doors of success in this poor, oil rich Middle Eastern country? Only time will tell.