January 2, 2011

Ali Abdullah Saleh: Yemen's President for Life

Despite U.S. anxiety over President Saleh's power-grab, his strategy is partly enabled by Washington's staunch allegiance and loose oversight

With the political tension Yemen is witnessing, ruling party officials are threatening to vote in parliament for amendments that could end up keeping President Saleh president of Yemen as long as he is alive. Sultan Barakani, head of the ruling party bloc in parliament commented that the ruling party is studying the possibility of having Saleh rule for years to come by deleting the two term policy, therefore, keeping chances open to run time after time.

The matter is not expected to be difficult for the ruling party who enjoy a strong majority in parliament.

This could however backlash on Saleh, as it will show the international community that Yemen is not as democratic as pictured, and that behind the democratic image the regime is showing, is strong dictatorship rule.

Discussions on prolonging Saleh’s time in power started last year. The General People’s Congress is currently discussing a proposed constitutional amendment that stipulates “cancelling the limit of two consecutive terms” for which a president can be elected.

If the GPC-dominated parliament passes the amendment, Saleh could reelect himself without limits. Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years, was reelected in September 2006 for another seven-year term, commented an MP member to media outlets.

The proposed amendment will be submitted to a referendum, which will be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections on April 27.

To decrease international tensions due to come due to the amendments, Saleh ordered that 44 additional seats be added in parliament, all for female candidates, therefore, raising the number of parliamentarians to 345. This would be considered a strong democratic move by the ruling party, and will surely recieve positive reactions from the United States and European Union.

The opposition on the other hand feels that they are losing everything, with nothing to stop the ruling party’s push to keep them out of the political arena. “They want to make us give in and feel that there is no chance for us in Yemeni politics,” said a senior opposition member.

“The ruling party controls the wealth, army, security, politics and in the same time people are fed up with the current regime and can’t do anything about it.”

Over the last year, the opposition claims that over 120 people have been imprisoned for political reasons.

The meltdown of Yemeni politics started when the mandate of the current parliament was extended by two years to April 2011 following the February 2009 agreement between the GPC and opposition parties to allow dialogue on political reform.

Reforms that were to be discussed included a shift from a presidential regime to a proportional representation parliamentary system and further decentralization of government -- measures that have not been implemented.

Political analysts in Yemen feel that tension will only rise in the next 10 years, fearing that Saleh will never bow down from rule. “For the same reason Yemenis revolted against the Imamate regime nearly 50 years ago,” said an opposition leader.

“Saleh will push Yemenis to the extent that they feel the only option left for them is a new revolution, therefore, forcing Yemen to start again from scratch.”
Hakim Almasmari is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Yemen Post Newspaper.

Although Yemen's opposition, after convening as the Joint Meeting Party, accepted a dialogue with the ruling GPC, rotating JMP president Muhammad Al-Mutawaki has issued a condition unlikely to be met by Saleh.

"Our reply was that in case the Ruling Party desires to return to the negotiating table, it should first return the situation as it was before the current turmoil through reversing all unilateral moves it has recently taken," Al-Mutawakil said.

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