The opposition: Between boycotting and postponing the elections [Archives:2008/1206/Opinion]

November 10 2008

Hassan Abbas Antar
Events proceed at a rapid rhythm and the Election Day gets nearer and nearer while other parties in the political game are still in a state of growing controversy and exchange of accusations over various political issues, particularly those related with reforming the election system and implementing agreed-upon amendments.

The opposition did not expect that the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) would continue endorsing the old election law. At this point, the arguable matter is that how Parliament members should vote for and approve a law, which is already placed into effect without being amended, while the ruling party continues to take further steps until it reached the phase of naming members of voter register review and correction committees.

Until the moment, it is impossible for anyone to predict how the next developments in the political scene will look like. However, through the most recent political developments and interactions, we can draw an approximate picture of what will happen in the near future.

Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), known as the major opposition coalition in Yemen, insist that the old election system must be amended, and the proposed amendments include approving the proportional list, purifying the voter register from any legal violations and receiving a soft copy of the voter register after being reviewed and corrected. The opposition parties, which the Supreme Commission for Election and Referendum (SCER) has promised to give a soft copy of the corrected voter registers since the most recent presidential and local elections in September 2006, also threatens to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections and undertake several protesting actions and activities.

A unified position

The one, who reads or hears speeches of opposition parties, most notably the Islamist Islah Party, may suspect that boycotting the elections has become a well-studied option and executable. But in fact, the idea of boycotting the elections is nothing more a type of political representation meant to demonstrate a unified position of the various JMP member parties that have various rightist and leftist orientations.

Concessions in exchange for participation

In addition, the idea of boycotting the elections is meant to increase pressure on the ruling party and press it to make some concessions in exchange of participating in the elections. Undoubtedly, the ruling party realizes how important it is to have the opposition parties participate in the upcoming elections. It realizes well what the consequence would look like if JMP member parties boycotted the elections.

The ruling party admits that it will face internal and foreign embarrassment that may cause the vote results lose its credibility in case the opposition parties boycott the elections. It also admits that local and international pressures on the regime will be on the rise in event the ruling party runs in the elections alone.

Therefore, GPC is currently working harder to persuade even some of the effective opposition parties to participate in the upcoming elections in order to add legitimacy to the electoral process on the basis of already known vote result.

As GPC will be hurt if JMP boycotts the elections, the latter will be hurt more than the former, particularly in event its opposition was proved passive and ineffective.

The most recent initiative made by President Saleh, which suggested presenting the proposed amendments to the election law once again to Parliament and recomposing SCER by adding JMP representatives, hasn't met JMP's expectations. The opposition coalition primarily focuses on correcting the voter register, getting a soft copy of it and approving the proportional list before reshuffling SCER.

Nobody can rule out potential deals between both sides to reach a compromise in the days to come, particularly as the previous electoral processes saw numerous deals of this kind. The JMP members fear that one of them may decide to participate in the elections, thereby hurting other allies in the coalition.

Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) admits how much it will cost it if it boycotts the elections like it did in 1997. And, the Islah Party admits that boycotting the elections means that the next Parliament formation will include no one of its representatives. Other parties in the opposition coalition admit that retaining the old formula of the voter register and the election system will lead to a landslide victory for the ruling party. Consequently, the days to come may see unprecedented political surprises in the form of deals in exchange for cessions and the likes.