Election in Yemen, ploy or progress?
Yemen’s President Saleh submitted a draft constitutional amendment to Parliament that calls for transforming the appointed 111 member Shura Council into an elected body. At first glance, the move appears to further popular empowerment. However, the electoral system in Yemen is heavily weighted in favor of President Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), which monopolizes political power.
Parliament is considering the measure today, the state media reported. Parliament rarely initiates legislation, instead acting as a rubber stamp for Saleh’s dictates while providing a facade of legitimacy.
Glaringly absent from the President’s reform plans is any provision for long overdue electoral reform, the issue that has driven a wedge between the ruling GPC and alliance of opposition parties, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).
The JMP is comprised of the Socialist Party, the Islamic Reform grouping known as Islah, al Haq, a predominantly Zaidi party as well as Nasserite and Ba’athist parties. Socialist Party leader Jarallah Omar led the formation of the alliance and was assassinated by a militant in 2002.
The JMP dropped its objections to the legitimacy of Saleh’ s 2006 re-election, despite numerous irregularities, in exchange for the state’s pledge to reform electoral provisions.
After the 2006 election, EU observers recommended changes to enable transparent vote counting, enforcement of election law, media fairness, and improving the voter register, electoral laws and systems. These recommendations formed the basis for the now defunct JMP-GPC dialog. Specific reforms include prohibiting voters from registering an employment address as a domicile of record, an important limitation considering the size of Yemen’s military. In 2006, the voter registry contained hundreds of thousands of underage and duplicate registrations.
Years of delay, recriminations and posturing have followed, but not reform. Parliamentary elections, slated for 2009, were delayed until 2011, to give the JMP and GPC more time to agree on electoral reforms. There has been no progress on the issue as the GPC continued to consolidate power.
Indirect governors’ elections were held for the first time in 2008. The GPC’s candidate “won” 19 of 23 governorships. The election of an independent was overthrown in the al Jawf province and the GPC candidate installed.
Mr. Saleh announced in March that Parliamentary elections would take place in 2011, with or without the JMP. Dialog between the JMP and GPC ground to a halt with the increase in state violence against the citizenry and illegal arrests of activists, journalists and protesters.
Without electoral reform, Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party will remain the dominant force on all levels of government in Yemen. Similar to the Ba’ath party’s position under Saddam Hussain, the GPC acts as a mechanism of access and privilege for Saleh loyalists.
A recent US State Department report on Yemen notes, “Severe limitations on citizens’ ability to change their government included corruption, fraudulent voter registration, administrative weakness, and close political-military relationships at high levels.” Public frustration over the abuse of state power triggered social unrest in several areas and fears of state failure.
In an interview on al Arabyia, Mr. Saleh stated that he will not seek re-election at the end of his term in 2013. Twice previously, Saleh has declared that he would not seek re-election only to be convinced by adoring crowds of state workers and school children bused in to the capital from outlying towns.