Yemen’s presidential “election” Tuesday was a single candidate affair designed by the United States. Abdu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s Vice President since 1994, was elected to the presidency in a poll that saw broad turnout among men, women and children.
Yemenis embraced the opportunity to partake in dethroning Saleh. The ballot only contained a yes option although some voters scribbled the names of murdered protesters on the ballot before they voted.
The Obama administration is framing the election as a success and furthermore a model for other transitions, although the power transfer agreement designed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was imposed over broad public objections. One difficulty is Saleh’s immediate family remains in control of most of the security forces and military, as well as major economic concerns and vast swaths of land. This gif at Critical Threats.org shows the incestuous nature of power in Yemen.
Mr. Hadi was selected as a consensus candidate by UN envoy Jamal ben Omar under the terms of the GCC deal, and strongly backed by the US and Saudi Arabia. The GCC transition plan supersedes the Yemeni constitution and laws. In the event the unity government is unable to reach consensus on any issue, President Hadi makes the final decision. The plan effectively re-establishes a dictatorship although some have called it more akin to an international trusteeship.
In November, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement to resign in return for prosecutorial immunity for 33 years of major corruption, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN Security Council endorsement of the immunity deal for Saleh was unprecedented and likely violates international law and certainly UN principles, the UNHCHR said in a statement at the time.
Hundreds of protesters were killed during the Yemeni Revolution and thousands wounded. In addition, well over a thousand southern protesters were killed 2007-2011 in pro-independence protests. A five year war in the northern province of Saada was characterized by collective punishment including bombing villages, refugee camps, mosques and hospitals. The Saleh regime also deliberately denied food and medical supplies and international aid during the Saada War in a pattern that constituted collective punishment, Human Rights Watch found. Saleh got off scott-free for all of it.
The GCC deal was overt rejected by millions of protesters since its proposal in April 2011. Saleh agreed and reneged on the deal several times, once besieging western diplomats gathered for the signing with a mob of pro-regime gun-toting thugs.
Following Saleh’s November resignation, the GCC deal created a unity government between Saleh’s ruling party and the compromised and ineffectual opposition party coalition led by Islah, the Islamic Reform Party. The protests were triggered by the failure of the political party system, and the protests were neither led by nor endorsed by the opposition parties until they were well underway.
The unity government designed in Washington raised most regressive elements in society, Islah and the GPC, well above the levels of their popular legitimacy and re-establishes the political statement that existed for years in Yemen. A strong contingent of protesters clinging to the demand for a “civil’ government, non-military and non-theocratic, was sidelined by the Obama administration. Also frozen out are the protesters themselves, the southerners, the northern rebels in Saada. In one ironic twist, ruling party members who resigned the party in protest of Saleh’s barbarism toward the protesters are also excluded from the unity government.
Phase one of the GCC deal was completed with today’s poll. Next the unity government is required to ask for and accept international assistance. Russia (to whom Yemen owes $6 billion for MIGs and other weapons) will help reconcile the ruling party with the opposition parties. The US is going to take charge on restructuring the Yemeni military, quite an overdue and necessary task. The EU appears to have focused on necessary political reforms including electoral reform. A national reconciliation conference will designate a committee to draft a new constitution in three months.
The counter-revolution, a Saudi-US effort, derailed the protests by supporting Saleh months past any logical or moral threshold, and failing to hold him to account for any of his crimes. The US still has not frozen any of the funds or assets (reported to be in the billions) that Saleh stole from the Yemeni treasury.
While the US may frame the political intervention into the Yemeni revolution (coupled with the drone policy) as good counter-terror policy, many have questioned that premise including Jeremy Scahill, see Washington’s War in Yemen Backfires and Katie Zimmerman, Recipe for Failure at Critical Threats.org
Areas of violence during the vote included Aden in south Yemen where an announced boycott degenerated as mobs attacked polling centers and absconded with ballot boxes. Some southerners view the south as “occupied” by the (Northern) Saleh regime since 1994 when they claim, Saleh imposed the unity of north and south Yemen by force. Although mass marches broke out in 2007, southerners never developed representative mechanisms or an overarching organizational structure even as their numbers grew, accounting for the nihilistic approach to the election. The latest tally has eight killed, including both soldiers and separatist protesters.
The inglorious butcher Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in the United States since January 28. He may return to Yemen for Mr. Hadi’s inauguration and to lead the General People’s Congress party, according to the US ambassador to Yemen.