Opposition Parties Announce Sweeping Political Reform

By Abdul-Aziz Oudah
Published December 6th 2005 in Yemen Observer
SANA'A- Yemen’s main opposition parties have announced sweeping political reforms, to strengthen the parliamentary political system, which they say is as a crucial step toward political change.

The plans, announced in a joint press conference held by the secretary generals of the Islah, the Yemen Socialist Party, the Union of Popular Forces and the Nasserite Party, are said to be a launching pad "for major reforms in all other fields".

The opposition parties claim that the reform is needed urgently as power is manipulated in the current political system by the head of state, and argue several changes are needed.

The reforms demand that the authority of the parliament must be strong enough to hold the government to account for its performance.

However, it would give the head of state power over sovereignty-related issues, as in other parliamentary systems.

In the two-chamber system of Parliament and Shura Council, both elected by the public, Parliament would have the authority of to approve the state budget without change.

However, the Shura Council would haves the final say on the appointment of senior civil and military state officials, ambassadors and the Governor of the Central Bank.

The initiative calls for a four-year period of Parliament and a five-year tenure for the head of state, with power restricted to only two terms.

In terms of judicial reform, the initiative argues that the Shura Council would form a high judiciary council to maintain the independence of judicial authority.

The parliament would have the authority to selecting the judges of the Supreme Court and to abolish the State Security Court and all exceptional courts.

As for the elections, the initiative argues the reformation of the election system was needed and a proportional representation introduced.

More administrative and financial authority would be given to local authorities, while county directors and governors would be elected. Part of the revenues from the region’s resources would be returned to the province itself.

The initiative also, abolishes the ministries of finance and civil service, the party affairs committee, and reforms the interior ministry, a statement from the parties said.

It would also make the armed forces linked to the Cabinet, cancel the demonstration law, change the journalism law, and remove all restriction on freedom of speech. It would also boost the protection of journalists and allow them access to the data they demand.

The initiative tackles the consequences of the 1994 Civil War, would introduce a new corruption law, and bars the head of state and all other government officials from involvement in private trade.

On the economic reforms, the initiative adopts a national strategy for sustainable development to diversify the sources of national income.

It would promote the involvement of the private sector and adopt new programs for the reduction of unemployment and poverty.

It would make education and health a priority, rationalize government spending, tackle with water and power shortages, back Yemen’s accession to the World Trade Organization, establish a stock exchange and promote the independence of the Central Bank.

“The state has to offer free education and health services, adopt national health insurance, integrate the disadvantages and promote women's rights,” the statement said.

The initiative aims at redefining foreign policy in a manner that boost the fight against poverty and unemployment, while both strengthening Yemen's ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC ) - and securing membership in it.

The joint statement said that all the secretary-generals had cooperated on the reforms, and that support of the plans was unanimous. However, it added that the initiative was not a condition for their participation at any coming election, but a vision that they will struggle to achieve on the long-term.

Dr. Yaseen Saeed Nuaman, the Secretary General of the Yemen Socialist Party said the goal of the initiative is to strengthen the republican system, democratic rule, to secure freedoms and rights, and to allow a peaceful succession of power.

“The initiative will achieve balance in the political and social life if it is implemented,” he said.

“The pre-1994 political system was more parliamentarian than presidential. But the post-1994 changes reinforced the presidency at the expense of the parliament. What is required now is the switch to the parliamentary system.”

The Secretary General of the Nasserite Party, Sultan Al-Otwani, MP, accused the parliament of being ineffective. “It fails to perform its job of controlling, the function of parliament,” he said.

Al-Yadoomi, the secretary general of Islah, said that the opposition parties would welcome foreign support for the implementation of their plans. However, Al-Otwani said their in women’s rights was not prompted by any outside pressures.

However Mohammed Al-Rubaee, the Secretary General of the Union of Popular Forces, said that the opposition parties have yet to agree on naming their candidate for the presidency. He also criticized the strength of media interest in their choice.

“The interest of journalists in who the person will be is a sort of paganism," he said angrily.

Al-Yadoomi added that his party is “only a member” of the Joint Meeting Parties, suggesting that the Islah party may not necessarily support President Saleh for the presidency, as it did in the previous presidential elections.

"The circumstances of Yemen in the past are different from the circumstances of Yemen today," he said.