Local News Political Analysis

Deadlock Over Looming Election Leads to Riots

Yemeni security forces faced down a demonstration of Yemeni opposition supporters in front of the Parliament in Sana’a on Tuesday.  The protest was called by opposition parties against the ruling party’s approval of an amendment to the electoral law.

The incident follows a decision last week by the ruling General People’s Congress Party to proceed with an amendment to the electoral law despite an parliamentary sit-in organized by opposition parties.

The ruling party has insisted that elections will proceed in April of this year, despite opposition calls that comprehensive dialogue on the conduct of the process, be agreed upon first.

Disagreements focus on the composition of the electoral oversight bodies and the opposition’s lobbying for a system of proportional representation.

The GPC had recently ratified a presidential recommendation to have the elections supervised by nine judges, selected by the president from a list of 15 candidates recommended by the parliament.

Also, the opposition coalition objects to the continued single constituency, or “first past the post” system favored by the GPC, and has been advocating for a system of proportional representation.

According to human rights activist Twakul Kerman, a number of reporters and journalists were subjected to harrassment and confiscation of  their cameras and mobile phones by the security forces during the event.

Witnesses reported tight security deployed next to Parliament Square, Tahrir Square and the roads leading to them on Tuesday morning.

Armored vehicles, police in riot gear, and water hoses were mobilized to fight the riots, and hundreds of soldiers with batons and firearms  gathered, anticipating the oppoisition Joint Meeting Party’s planned demonstration.

The current disputes among political forces have reached new heights recently as the JMP, composed of al-Islah, the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Nasserite party, and other opposition parties, issued an appeal for just conduct of the coming elections in response to the ruling GPC’s move.

The statement called for a balanced national dialogue, and appealed to their supporters and people of all the different parties for ongoing, comprehensive efforts to restore legitimate democratic procedure.

Also in the communiqué was an affirmation of citizens’ right to change and share in power, wealth, social justice, equal citizenship and participation in a pluralistic democratic project without fear of official reprisals.

Previous talks between the government and the opposition have failed to reach satisfactory realization to their comprehensive deal, reached in February 2009, which concerns conduct of the parliamentary elections which had been scheduled for April of last year.

The basis for implementing the February agreement was further solidified by the two sides in a road map agreement inked last July, but the dialogue has since deteriorated.

The GPC’s second vote on the draft amendment of electoral law irritated the opposition parties, which decided to go into streets and organized a series of protests in front of the parliament aimed at forcing a meeting to discuss comprehensive national dialogue.

The opposition called for such a meeting to include its partners, as well as representatives from all political parties, national figures, and social movements which were involved in the preparatory committee for national dialogue.

Dr. Yassin Said Numan, Secretary General of the JMP stated, “we are not interested in accepting a game designed by extremists within the ruling party.  Taking to the streets is practical reaction to the intransigence of the authorities.

“The JMP rejects the government’s intentions to amend the electoral law and the form the Higher Committee for the Elections according to its own terms.  The ruling party has embarked on a course toward wholesale theft of the political process.

“They are on a course toward stealing the elections and falsifying the results to retain their power and sustain their monopoly on parliament, wealth, and the sources of decision-making, thereby closing all hope for peaceful and democratic change.”

According to Dr. Mohamed Abdul-Malik al-Mutawakkil, league president for the JMP, “Yemen is different, and for those who think they can repeat the experience of neighboring countries are dreaming.

“The Yemeni case is completely different from those of Egypt and Lebanon. If the GPC tries to replicate the recent elections in Egypt, or capitalize on the success of the Gulf 20, it will show that it is oblivious to the people’s wishes.”

Opposition parties affirmed their commitment to a dialogue to reach political consensus on the general election law amendments, the reform of the electoral system, and the implementation of the recommendations of the European Union on the integrity of elections, signed off on by all parties after the 2006 elections.

It also mandated that such a dialogue must affirm the creation of political and legislative atmosphere of holding a free, fair, and equitable election.

Deputy Sultan Al-Atawani of the Nasserite party condemned the alleged exploitation by the GPC of the Gulf 20 tournament to escape its political obligation.  “They offer the illusion that the conflict is between the authority and opposition, but it has become a struggle between power and the people.”

Mr. al-Atawani discerns a plot to grip full control over the electoral process, or to postpone it at will, especially out of fear by the ruling party’s of electoral setbacks in southern provinces.

So, he continued, the GPC cites as an excuse national crises, such as prevailing tensions with the Houthis and in the southern governorates, as well as the effects of the economic problems suffered  by the country in general.

Mohamed Salem Ba-Sendwah, President of the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, claimed, “the ones who delay the elections today will drag the country into a bigger crisis tomorrow, and they are adding fuel to the fire.  It’s clear that the GPC’s actions are part of a plan to extend the government’s authority for the next five years.”

“Because of the danger of what the GPC has done in the past, it is natural that the JMP will hard to obstruct their policies now,” said to Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar.

“Yemen must be governed by legitimate authority, and popular legitimacy must govern Yemen,” he added.  “We gave the Authority a chance not to isolate itself, but it refused, calling for the Southern Movement to be within the national consensus.

“The GPC just accuses the opposition of setting impossible conditions in order not to reach an agreement, and of not having a clear vision beyond minor whims and political obstruction.”

He retorted, “they seek to complicate matters and fabricate crises.  They constantly search for suspicious political deals outside the scope of the results of the constitution, law, ballot boxes, and the rules of the democratic game.”

He went on to express concern over some efforts to depict the opposition as obstructionist, countering that the ruling party was the real force behing constitutional disputes, fabricating crises, and creating chaos in the country.

Al-Ahmar threatened that those who irritate the Yemeni security situation must be subjected to legal accountability.

The press secretary of the GPC, Tariq al-Shami, rejected the allegations that his party refused demands imposed by opposing political forces, specifically the JMP, as a condition to enter into a political dialogue.

His comments came during a meeting organized as a political development forum, organized by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation entitled, “National Dialogue for Difficult Choices.”

Al-Shami also confirmed his party’s position on supporting the participation of all political parties in the national dialogue. He claimed that his party is cooperative with every party calling the European Union to supervise the absence of political understandings among the parties on major disagreements.

Al-Shami said that calls for international mediation following the visit of  an EU parliamentary mission was accepted by the ruling party.

But, he continued, the JMP’s objection to the recent electoral amendments, passed with a legal majority, and its determination to boycott parliamentary sessions, showed its lack of commitment to consensus.

Al-Shami also called the opposition’s actions a violation of the spirit of the  “Friends of Yemen” group which met earlier this year in New York, which had announced its full support to the national dialogue as the basis for establishing security and stability.

The “Friends of Yemen” also considered national dialogue the most effective means to ensure free elections, which, in al-Shami’s view, does not mean undercutting the elections for the sake of one party, not just out of concern for political stability, but on the very political legitimacy of the government.

“The opposition considers the democratic system the fundamental and constant pillar of legitimacy, yet it negotiates outside its bounds,” he added.

Resident Representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Achim Vogt, commented on the difficulty of promoting democratic structures in the Middle East, noting that the political process often becomes a  monologue of the State towards its citizens instead of a dialogue .

He continued, “any real dialogue needs the will of citizens and politicians not to put pressure on others but to agree with them on a solution that would be of benefit for all.”

“This does not just pertain to reconciliation among people in the North and South, but also to conditions for more general popular reconciliation.

“National dialogue aimed at discussing all matters which are sources of conflict and disagreement in the country will set the rules that could be used to build fair elections, as well as address broader political and economic crises,” Mr. Vogt concluded.