Why these elections are important for Yemen [Archives:2006/982/Viewpoint]

September 18 2006

It's the talk of town. It's there in every house, street and shop and Yemenis of all ages and orientations are talking about the elections. Each person has different reasons and opinions, but everyone agrees the coming local council and presidential elections are important for Yemen.

Even the leading presidential candidates agreed the coming presidential elections are going to be free and fair. Local council candidates have never felt the seriousness of competition as they do today, and most important, the people feel their voice can make a difference.

Our hope as Yemeni people is that whoever wins will institutionalize the government and install a ruling system in which peaceful transfer of power exists and the public are involved in the state's decision making.

In the interview on Al-Jazeera TV, President Saleh was asked, “Why do it? Why go through these elections this way and allow for competition to exist?” A forward looking Saleh answered, “I want to create a democratic system and for Yemen to be an example for other countries.”

His answer, although ideal, arouses two points when I think of it: Why now and what affect does Yemen's experience have on neighboring countries?

For my first question, President Saleh indirectly answered when he said he was tired of being in charge and he felt Yemen is ready today for democracy. As to what kind of message this sends other Arab countries and whether this would create a backlash from other heads of state, he said that so far he didn't receive any direct criticism.

Similarly, the local council elections are also a breakthrough. Many unfulfilled promises of previous candidates have come into question today as local people learn from the past. There is an opportunity for new people to represent districts and a greater opportunity for women to be included in the political sphere.

We can't say there is real democracy in Yemen as yet, because there is so much more to be done. But this election is a step in the right direction. Today these elections are important as an opportunity for Yemenis to prove they deserve to live in a democratic system where their voice is heard.