OP-ED

Yemen: What Would Happen After September 18th?

National Yemen

Yemen: What would Happen After September 18th?

Mustafa Noman

The implementation mechanism of Gulf Initiative surrounding the National Dialogue Conference specified that the Conference would end on September 18 of this year. The Dialogue members were to agree on a new constitution and draft the text of the new document. Voters would then evaluate the constitution, and finally elect a new parliamentary council and president of the Republic to form a new government. This would mark the end of Yemen’s two-year transitional period and the start of Yemen’s new historical phase.

Although the Conference has already been in session for months, the real negotiations will begin in the coming weeks in the halls of the Movenpick. The new constitution must be suitable for the federal state preferred by the consensus of Yemen’s political forces, and it will fall to the Dialogue to negotiate the details.

The matter may not be so smooth due to the Conference’s failure to stay on schedule. Furthermore, no substantial decisions have been made on the Southern Issue, which is one of the most important topics of the Conference. So far, No one has been able to make any significant efforts on the ground in the south, but significant change requires a pragmatic formula capable of carrying Yemenis from despair and frustration to better horizons of decent and secure living.

In the past five months, the members of the Dialogue have been unable to find an acceptable vision for the stakeholders in the south. Opponents remain entrenched in their viewpoints. The current proposed solutions range between a two or five-province system. The first would call for Yemen’s federation into a northern and southern province, and the second would establish two provinces in the south and three in the north. These proposals, however, have been met with loud demands and threatening tones. In particular, continued economic recession in the south over the past two years has only increased the discontent of Yemen’s southern population.

The big issue facing Dialogue members is how the new constitution will affect the management of the country. While some want to defer the issue of regional division to the new government, others believe that the issue must be written into the constitution in order to prevent changes to the situation once a government is established. Furthermore, there is already a system in place for electing a president and forming a government, so some are demanding new transitional laws for Yemen’s state authorities. Current state authorities will remain in power until the new state structures are decided upon.

The important issues still to be discussed in the remaining negotiations are Yemen’s geographic regions, transitional materials, and the future powers of the president and government during the transitional period after February 21 2014.

I think it’s good to search for acceptable alternatives.

Leaving the issue of regional division to the government elected after February 2014 will only cause frustration, especially if it opposed the ambitions of Yemen’s southern population. Efforts to postpone the question of regional division therefore stand to cause significant tension. The five-province proposal recently leaked to the public did not include any convincing reason for southern stakeholders to support it. The most important question behind this proposal, therefore, is who are the southern representatives involved in this proposal? Are they absent, and if so, why?

In any event, this policy is not administratively feasible, and fails to respect current realities. Moreover, it is illogical for anyone to think that the situation in the south will be destabilized by such a plan, even with external support. It is not guaranteed that those who claim to be guardians of the south can truly help the situation, either.

The southern issue needs an event with captures the public interest. It is also vital that the discussions continue without any stubbornness or dependence on authoritarian powers or waits for mediation. Pressure exists on all sides to connect all the relevant parties, and there is no time to stop for differences or disputes. It would be a boon to the process if the forces of the Southern Movement—currently separated into several doctrines, could unite to strengthen their case.

In addition, old conflicts in the south and modern conflicts in the north do not facilitate attempts to gather all parties in one place. These efforts need to be free from all arrogance, stubbornness, and moneyed interests; only positive and serious work will produce real progress. Discussion of the constitution without a solution to the southern issue is putting the cart before the horse and then pushing both in the wrong direction. It is opportunist for any party to entrench their position on the pending covenant, and can only lead to new predicaments for the country.

On the other hand, negotiations taking place far from the Movenpick are proving equally difficult. The election of the House of Representatives seems similar to the situation of the new president in terms of competence, powers, and an unclear vision of the future of Yemen’s government, be it president, parliamentary, or mixed.

These issues will be the transition items for the coming years, but they must be clear without requiring lengthy explanations from politicians and jurists. And these issues cannot be left for later laws to settle. There is too great a risk that they will be changed or undermined by future governments, which threatens the integrity of the constitutional text itself. There is no benefit in forming a national assembly after the adoption of the constitution in place of a house of representatives elected only once in over twelve years.

Similarly, the interim assembly members should not be chosen by politicians; instead, the constitution—as opposed to a subsequent law—must set the standards of these assembly members in terms of their experience and suitability for their position. Their job is to follow the initiatives of the president, Council of Ministers, and state institutions. This is necessary for the election of a new parliament following the adoption of a state form.

Moreover, the assembly must work to move power from central authorities outward to Yemen’s provinces in order to empower and better administer these regions. There could be articles in the constitution to this effect. Parliamentary and local elections may need to take place in these regions as well. Although the outcomes of such elections cannot be predicted, this is a risk that must be taken, especially if the south still wishes to form its own country.

The time remaining in Yemen’s traditional period is growing very short. It is illogical to repeat Yemen’s past mistakes, and it would be just as erroneous to leave all the outstanding issues to the side to be decided later. Everyone knows that Yemen’s current situation is a product of personal desires, and it is unacceptable that we should copy the wrong behavior in the past that brought Yemen to its current crisis today.