Yemeni-style elections [Archives:2006/941/Opinion]

April 27 2006

Ali Al-Sarari
Crisis indicators have begun prevailing in Yemen's political scene as September's presidential elections draw nearer. Observers of the events can predict a sharp crisis will occur in coming months.

What I am talking about does not reflect a pessimistic personal viewpoint related to nightmares raiding the country following qat sessions, but it is imprudent to ignore recurring crisis indicators. The main indicator attracting more attention than others has been manifested in the disappointing impasse in dialogue between the General People's Congress (GPC) and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

Dialogue began four months ago and its assigned topic early on was to reform election management, represented by the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER) and its affiliates. Both parties in the dialogue had differing viewpoints that appeared difficult for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to bring together.

The ruling party insisted on retaining the SCER's current structure and dividing subcommittee seats among parties according to their Parliament seats and the percentage of votes they received in recent parliamentary elections. In light of this viewpoint, the GPC controls the seven-member SCER, with five members belonging to it and the other two from the opposition, in addition to its 70 percent control of subcommittees.

On the other hand, opposition parties stressed SCER reshuffling as it lacks balance and is accused of partiality toward the GPC, as well as approving equal division of subcommittees so as not to be controlled by a particular party.

As usual, the two parties in the dialogue resorted to the Constitution and the law, each wanting to bring out any constitutional clauses supporting its viewpoint. The GPC provided justification that the remaining time period will not be enough for SCER reshuffling, saying the law does not stipulate forming the SCER from parties despite its ban on forming the committee from a single party.

The JMP excerpted its pretext from constitutional clauses obliging the SCER to be neutral whereas the current commission is not neutral in that it is dominated by a majority of GPC members. According to the JMP, equal representation in all electoral committees ensures balance and exercising reciprocal observation of their work.

To ensure SCER impartiality, the JMP presented evidence against it based on its members' statements and violations committed in complementary elections in constituencies No. 227 in Raima province and 1999 in Dhamar, as indicated by international election monitoring reports. According to the JMP, the SCER never took any action against the said violations as stipulated by law.

The GPC's attempt to evade being one of the dialogue parties could not succeed, as it is sandwiched between the SCER and the JMP. Due to the latter's insistence, the GPC was compelled to accept dialogue with the opposition, which does not involve the SCER, announcing that it welcomes any agreement reached by it and the opposition.

Dialogue began to move toward seriousness after being transformed into a screened play, as the GPC could not hide but turned to defend the SCER and any actions it takes. The dialogue's seriousness remained relative since it never reached any practical results and the different parties showed a desire to have joint points to avoid any crisis.

In the end, the GPC broke the dialogue by withdrawing its proposal for discussion after being accepted by the opposition. The proposal was meant to form a committee of six lawyers from both sides, in addition to two judges, to discuss opposition charges against the SCER. The newly formed committee would have the right to enact its decision after approval by both sides. If the decision acquits the SCER, it will continue its work, but if it condemns it, the two parties must agree to form a new SCER and approve JMP pledges to ensure a free and fair poll.

The GPC's withdrawal of its proposal returned dialogue to its starting point, further complicating the matter by saying President Ali Abdullah Saleh informed the two dialogue parties during his meeting with them that he will take a neutral stance toward reconciliation between them. This statement convinced the JMP that dialogue was only a waste of time since the president controls the decision and not his party, according to JMP press statements.

To further complicate the situation, GPC leaders escaped confessing the dialogue's failure with opposition parties. In their recent meeting chaired by Prime Minister and GPC Secretary-General Abdulqader Bajammal, GPC leaders said they discussed new constitutional amendments the government presented. JMP spokesman Mohamed Qahtan denied such action, labeling it “child's play.”

While the SCER continues preliminary procedures for upcoming elections excluding the JMP, media predict a false impression will occur which may help the SCER form voter registration committees and modify registers. All of these matters are proceeding legally, however, violations are on the rise and the file of electoral crimes is becoming larger. JMP sources confirmed that this elections preparation stage inevitably will fail, stating that it will possess clear-cut evidence to appeal against voter registers.

The JMP escalated its efforts in preparing for a confrontation due to involve various social classes and the regime. Meanwhile, GPC sensitivity is growing over steps and actions the JMP took, particularly in organizing a consultative meeting with opposition leaders in governorates two weeks ago. Opposition journalists and lawyers also held a similar meeting.

As exchanging charges represents the main stance prevailing in the current political scene, upcoming presidential elections will be conducted Yemeni-style, meaning elections without competition or conducted in an atmosphere of sharp political crisis. Both cases will help fulfill the need for change or bring Yemen a step closer toward the democratic move. All of these tricky acts aim to permanently complicate the current situation.

Ali Al-Sarari is a Yemeni Journalist and a well-known politician. He is the head of the information department at the Yemeni Socialist Party.