x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Clear reform for Yemen remains an elusive goal

In Yemen, where transparency is promised, opacity remains, and where democracy exists on paper, tribal allegiances reign supreme. These enduring systems bode ill for a country in dire need of constitutional reform.

Up until Saturday, the shots fired at protesters in Yemen would have at best been a reprehensible act on the part of an increasingly desperate regime.

But because the raid happened shortly after President Ali Abdullah Saleh assured US officials that he would not use violence against demonstrators, the act is emblematic of the problems that have permeated Yemeni politics for decades.

Where transparency is promised, opacity remains, and where democracy exists on paper, tribal allegiances reign supreme. Last month, bags of cash, as well as cars, were reportedly distributed by Mr Saleh's party as he shuttled back and forth between tribal leaders, attempting to consolidate his alliances in the face of growing opposition.

Such moves reveal far more about how Yemen is run than the statements the Yemeni president made last week about constitutional reform. That is a shame. Given proper oversight, the package that Mr Saleh offered could have gone a long way to mend a fractured polity.

In a televised speech last week, Mr Saleh laid out a plan that called for a new electoral law, a parliamentary system of governance, and the decentralisation of power. The reforms answer long-held grievances by those in Yemen's south and other constituents that they are not adequately represented in parliament; switching to a parliamentary system would also support the multi-party system of Yemen's constitution, rather than the one-party state of Mr Saleh's regime. A decentralisation of power could also empower local governates and allow them to retain political autonomy in a country where internal conflicts often threaten civil war.

But Mr Saleh and his General People's Congress have failed to deliver before, and there is little to indicate that they can do so now. Last month, nine members of Mr Saleh's party resigned to protest the growing violence. His crumbling base suggests that a change at the top is a question of when, not if.

And yet, the JMP opposition coalition against Mr Saleh has little to offer in the way of effective leadership. Lacking tribal support, they don't possess the political will to lead the country into a new era of reform.

At the moment, the shared goal among many tribes and parties is to oust Mr Saleh from power. But in the power vacuum that will remain, who will implement the constitutional reforms that can truly change Yemen's future?