On Monday Yemen’s interim president Mansour Abdo Hadi named several judges to the Supreme Commission on Elections and Referendum (SCER). The SCER is responsible for the technical aspects of elections and has a pivotal role in maintaining or subverting the integrity of elections.
In a meeting that included UN envoy Jamal ben Omar, President Hadi selected “honest and competent” judges, the state news agency SABA reported.
The SCER will oversee Yemen’s next presidential election, scheduled for 2014.
The question of electoral reforms has been the subject of heated dispute among Yemen’s political parties since at least 2003 when parliamentary elections were last held.
Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress party (GPC) systematically rejected electoral reforms that would diminish its stranglehold on political power, the Parliament and other state apparatus. As a result the GPC and the opposition party alliance, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) have been politically deadlocked for years on the question of the SCER and other reforms.
It was Parliament’s inability to implement needed electoral reforms that gave rise to the perceived illegitimacy of government and mass demonstrations in 2011 and led in part ultimately the overthrow of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president since 1978 and head of the GPC.
In the run up to the 2006 presidential election, the opposition JMP suggested the SCER be split equally between GPC and JMP loyalists instead of selected by the President. The partisan division of the SCER was a method deployed following 1990’s unity of North and South Yemen. In a compromise, two additional members from the opposition were appointed to the SCER.
Saleh’s 2006 re-election was characterized by wide ranging irregularities. Saleh’s ruling GPC party signed an agreement to implement a range of electoral reforms if the JMP dropped its claims of electoral fraud. The GPC wanted to cement a veneer of legitimacy on Saleh. The JMP refocused on the 2009 parliamentary election and its goal of a proportional representation system.
The JMP advocated adopting the proportional or list method. The “first past the post” method in place gives advantage to the ruling GPC and established parties in general. In 2003’s parliamentary election, the GPC received 58 per cent of the vote and 238 seats. Candidates of JMP member party, Islah, won 22 per cent of the vote but only 46 seats. The GPC’s parliamentary seats increased from 123 in 1993, to 187 in 1997 and 238 in 2003. The participation of independent candidates and women candidates sharply dropped in each election.
The 2006 agreement on electoral reforms between the GPC and JMP was based on reports from impartial international observers and included redrawing the imbalanced electoral districts, redefining “domicile” to prevent the transfer of army units into opposition strongholds in order to sway the vote, and revising wildly inaccurate voter rolls.
However the GPC dominated parliament stalled and stonewalled the negotiations, prompting opposition JMP members to boycott parliament several times. Without a modicum of progress since 2006, Yemen’s 2009 parliamentary election was postponed until April 2011.
Yemen’s Youth Revolution began in January 2011 and called for the overthrow and trial of Yemen’s long ruling military dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and his entire regime. The protesters rejected both the opposition and ruling parties as corrupt, ineffective and anti-democratic. For months the United States maintained support for Saleh despite atrocities committed against protesters by state security forces. The US had invested over $300 million in Yemen’s counter-terror forces since 2006 and had little contact with political forces outside Saleh’s family and circle of elites.
In April 2011, Parliament voted itself more time in office, again delaying elections in order to “give political parties a chance to develop the political and democratic system, reshape the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum, and finalize discussions over related issues,” the Yemen Post reported.
By November 2011, ongoing nationwide protests forced Saleh from power under a transition plan devised by the United States and Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Known as the GCC plan and endorsed by the UN Security Council, the transfer of power in Yemen was based on a guarantee of immunity for Saleh and his cronies. The GCC plan left the ruling regime and its military assets largely intact. Saleh retained his financial assets, thought to be well in excess of $10 billion.
Saleh’s Vice President Abdo Mansour Hadi was nominated as a consensus candidate by both the ruling GPC and opposition JMP. Hadi was the sole candidate in a February 2012 presidential “election” that saw a 65% turn-out.
The electoral reforms stalled since 2006 were not an issue during the 2012 presidential election, as the winner was pre-determined, but any unresolved issues certainly will come into play in 2014 when President Hadi’s term expires.
By dividing the interim government between Saleh’s GPC party and the JMP, the transition plan artificially empowered Yemen’s opposition parties, especially the Islamic Reform Party, Islah which dominates the JMP.
A report detailing President Hadi’s 220 new appointments alleges they were selected based on party affiliation and political loyalty, not merit, competence or ability.
Saleh remains active in Yemeni politics as head of the GPC party. Saleh is also thought responsible for militias and terrorists who are undermining the Yemeni security with violence directed against persons and infrastructure.
Mass protests continue in Yemen calling for the ouster of Saleh’s relatives and loyalists who remain as military commanders and in other high ranking positions. Other demands include overturning the immunity deal, and trying Saleh for mass corruption, and the deaths of protesters during the revolution and for war crimes prior to 2011.
Hadi’s government is gearing up to hold a national dialog in November, bringing in disenfranchised groups including southern secessionists and northern rebels.