Regime under fire
Opposition parties in Yemen are joining forces to challenge the centralisation of power in the country, reports Nasser Arrabyee in Sanaa
An initiative for political reform announced this week by the six main opposition parties has stirred much controversy among Yemeni politicians. While the opposition says the initiative is to "rescue the nation from collapse", the ruling party and official media label it is a "conspiracy" against the nation.
The opposition grouping, known locally as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), have demanded a parliamentary system, saying it will end the country's suffering under the current regime and will "stop the deterioration of public conditions and unify efforts and energies to rescue the homeland from collapse". The ruling General People's Congress Party (GPC) retorted that the parliamentary model is but one system among many.
"There is the presidential system, the parliamentary system, the mixed system like here in Yemen, but there is no rule saying that the parliamentary system is the best," Tarik Al-Shami, chairman of the media and culture circle of GPC told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The JMP project targets the president of the republic, the constitution, the nation and it aims to weaken the presidential institution," Al-Shami added.
"The parliamentary system will end the sufferings of individual rule ... The current regime concentrated powers in the hands of the head of the state, marginalising institutions and turning corruption into organised practices and a tool to monopolise power," states the document which was signed by heads and representatives of the six parties of the JMP -- the Islamic party (Islah), the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the Unionist Nasserite Party (UNP), the Islamic Federation of the Popular Forces Party (FPFP), the Arab Baath Party (ABP) and Islamic Al-Haq Party -- in a press conference in Sanaa early this week.
Despite the fact that the opposition leaders confirmed that their proposal is open for dialogue with all political parties and forces, including the GPC, ruling party officials considered it treason against the homeland. "This is a programme for political reform and we will keep struggling to achieve it through legal and constitutional ways. The door for dialogue [with all parties] is open," Islah Secretary-General Mohamed Al-Yadoomi said.
"The project is considered the other face of the 'pledge and accord' document which was used as a cover to declare secession and ignite the war of 1994, under the leadership of the YSP," said Al-Shami, referring to a document which failed to stop the 1994 civil war between the south, led by the YSP, and the north, led by GPC. "The new thing now is that this project is under the leadership of Islah instead of YSP," he added.
The GPC issued a statement criticising the opposition project as "an attempt to tickle the emotions of people with the objective of gaining their confidence in a way which ignores the political reality."
Observers, however, look positively on the waves the opposition proposal has made. "Criticism and attacks on the opposition reform project by the government and the ruling GPC is a sign of strength not weakness," said Abdallah Al-Faqee, politics professor at Sanaa University. "They have to study and discuss it and make use of it, rather than refuse it," he added.
Leaders of the signing parties denied the project was an early plan of action ahead of next September's presidential elections. Talk about nominating an opposition figure to run for presidential elections was the most sensitive issue for opposition leaders who avoided responding to repeated questioning on the matter by reporters at the signing ceremony.
"The JMPs have not conclusively reached an agreement on the coming presidential election yet," Al-Yadoomi of Islah said. "But I would say circumstances in the past five years will not be like circumstances one year from now," he added. "We need time to decide on the issue of the presidential candidate," Al-Yadoomi told the press.
The Islah secretary-general denied any direct support from abroad for their reform initiative. "Anything from abroad will have no affect, however strong it is, except if it finds support from inside. And we are working inside only, but if something moral comes from outside it will be welcomed," he said.
For his part, the YSP's secretary-general addressed the issue of internal dialogue. "We don't claim to have the last word on reform, so we welcome observations on our vision from other political forces or from authorities," Yasseen Noman, leader of the YSP, said. "This initiative can be developed, it is not sacred; it is a window on society, reflecting our vision," he added.