Political Analysis

Constitutional Amendments Menace Yemen’s Future

Yemen aspired to be a democracy straight away after the unity of Yemen in 1990, May 22nd.  Since that day, the country has veered among different strategies of governance, as sharing presidential power gave way to parliamentary elections, which led to a civil war in the summer of 1994.  Winning the civil war has made President Saleh the undisputedly strongest player in the Yemeni political arena.

On April 27th, 1993, Yemen managed to have its first ever parliamentary election through a multiparty political process. More than 2,271,126 participants elected 3,166 candidates – 42 of whom were women. The General People’s Congress won the majority and formed a joint government with the Islah party representing the Islamists, as well as the Yemeni communist party.

Since the announcement of the upcoming parliamentary elections by the President, the country witnessed a series of political disagreements on the ruling party’s governing style and the significant proposed amendments to the elections law.

The opposition parties are rejecting totally the timing of the move, and the general lack of consensus exhibited by the ruling party.  The government remains determined to hold the elections on time, unless the visit of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had an effect on the situation – which is highly unlikely.

The Yemeni parliament made it its daily mission, through lengthy meetings, to ratify the amendments.  Mr. Himyar Abdullah al-Ahmar, deputy chairman of parliament, headed the expanded meeting last week, which was attended by the political parties, civil society, and media.

Al-Ahmar has chaired the session, saying that the constitutional amendments project, which is still in the process of review, is being proposed for the sake of all Yemeni citizens. “The short period of informing people set until February 5th , passing all legal steps for the constitutional amendments program, passing through local authorities, discussing new seats for women, and giving more broad authority to local councils are the major points for discussion,” said al-Ahmar.

Dr. Mohammed al-Kabsi, deputy president of Sana’a University, said that the substantial attendance of the meeting is a positive sign, which might indicate a majority acceptance of the constitutional amendments’ points.

The head of the farmers’ and engineers’ syndicate, present for the session, commented, “We have witnessed amendments three times in 20 years. The changes every seven years weaken the force of the law; the current system is much better than the amended one, which does not show any type of democracy.”

Qasim al-Taweel, said the process does not conform to societal norms, and that the proposed quota for 44 women in the parliament is a positive one, but he questioned the efficiency of nominating them in the governorates, in which women are traditionally marginalized.

Raja’a al-Musabi, an activist, noted the rule which mandates that a member of parliament must know how to write and read, but stated that this was hardly sufficient qualifications for an MP. “For the 44 women members, I would suggest every candidate should represent a different type of Yemeni woman; one for the handicapped, farmers, housewives, etc.”

Abdul Karim Hamid al-Bazili, said that Article 63 will add 44 seats reserved for women, and since they will be widespread resistance to the proposal, they should revise the article. “44 women in such a tribal country will not truly affect women’s participation in society, and besides, no community will be happy to have his candidate a woman.”