Ninety days after the Gulf brokered peace deal, Yemen is witnessing its presidential election which will mark ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh formally stepping down. Inspired by fellow Arab nations, after years of living under oppressive rule, anti government demonstrations broke out in Yemen and resulted in street battles, the displacement of citizens and an intensified humanitarian crisis.
Last week the UNSC called for a “credible, non-violent and peaceful election”. Vice President Abou Rabo Mansour Hadi is the only presidential candidate approved by parliament after all nominations were rejected, such as Ahmad Al Musaibly’s – a widely supported independent journalist. Hadi, who is considered a good consensus candidate by some, is to lead the country into a transitional period before conducting competitive elections in the next couple of years.
The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) encompasses the Islamist Islahist Party, the Yemeni Socialist Party, the Arab Baath Party, Haq Party, the Union of Popular Forces and the Nasserite Unionist Popular Organisation. The opposition coalition was mainly responsible for the protests against the Saleh regime calling for the ousting of all officials from the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the replacement of the first past the post system with a more democratic electoral system based on proportional representation. Other opposition groups, such as the ‘Revolutionaries’, oppose the immunity law which protects Saleh and his aides. The Southern Movement is another resistance group which demands the secession of the south.
The GCC brokered deal and the immunity vote
In the aftermath of violent events since early last year, the Yemeni president (who had been in office since 1978) and opposition groups signed a peace treaty late last year brokered by the GCC. Under the deal, the president would hand over power to his deputy, the only presidential candidate, and resign within 30 days. However, the deal also guaranteed immunity from prosecution to him and his aides. The parties also agreed upon forming a government of national unity and holding early presidential elections.
Human Rights Watch has urged the US, EU and GCC to dismiss the immunity law protecting Saleh and his aides as it has no legal grounds. However, the interim cabinet, which is dominated by the pro Saleh GPC, approved it despite it being widely opposed domestically by other members of parliament and members of the opposition, and internationally by human rights associations.
According to HRW, it represents a breach of international law as Yemen is bound to ‘investigate and prosecute serious international war crimes, and crimes against humanity’. It also condemns the Yemeni Defense Forces actions throughout the political upheaval and calls for the prosecution of all human rights violations throughout the country.
If the only selected candidate has fulfilled a major role in the Saleh regime, how much credibility do these elections have? Does this mean this election is a mere change of face for the Yemeni regime rather than a change of regime itself? Is this an election to appease the international communities’ concern for Yemen? Is it a mechanism to retain the status quo without alerting the world – who with the escalating violence in Syria – has turned a blind eye to the situation in Yemen? Are we afraid to change a regime that has been agreeable in the long fight against terror? Is our fear of what may come after repressing real change? But wasn’t it that exact fear that kept dictators like Gaddafi and Mubarak in power for so long? Will unhappy protestors disrupt the elections today? I guess only time can tell…