x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Yemen poll to go ahead despite lack of reform

President Saleh and the opposition had agreed last year to postpone parliamentary election until changes could be made to the political process.

SANA'A // Despite an agreement with the opposition to conduct reforms before the next election, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, has said the parliamentary election will move forward even though little to nothing has been done to bring about change. The two sides had agreed in 2009 to postpone elections for two years in order to make reforms, setting the election date in April 2011. "The election will be conducted in its due time without any delay. We have made a mistake in postponing the election and the JMP [Joint Meeting Parties] is to be blamed for that," Mr Saleh said during a speech on Saturday at a ceremony marking International Labour Day.

The ruling People's General Congress and the JMP, an opposition coalition of six parties that includes Islah, Yemen's main Islamist party, agreed in February 2009 to postpone the parliamentary election that was due that April in order to carry out political and electoral reforms. "I do not know what democracy is this ? the opposition parties should have demanded that elections should be run in its due course of time or earlier. But [these] parties are calling for the postponement of the election. Why the worries? Let us be in the command of the balloting boxes," Mr Saleh said.

Mr Saleh said the dialogue with the JMP should focus on implementing the February agreement and forming a committee to oversee the election process as well as granting more power to the local elected representatives. "Any dialogue beyond these issues is rejected. Let them dialogue with themselves," Mr Saleh said, referring to the demands of the JMP to release Southern Movement activists, stop the use of government media to attack them and end the harassment of democracy activists.

Mr Saleh lashed out at what he called the "culture of hate" in the south against northerners after reports of increasing violence. For the past three years, increasingly angry demonstrations over economic and political marginalisation have been held in the south. Scores have been killed and hundreds arrested in clashes between government troops and activists of the Southern Movement, an umbrella for several separatist groups.

"We do reject the culture of hate - road robbery acts," Mr Saleh said. "Hate acts are meant to incite a reaction in the northern provinces against their brothers in the south. I thank the citizens in the northern provinces for not reacting [to these incidents]," said Mr Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years. Mr Saleh also called on al Houthi rebels to respect February's peace agreement, which has come under strain in recent weeks.

Mohammed al Sabri, a leading opposition politician, blamed Mr Saleh for the collapse of the negotiations between the JMP and the ruling party. At a meeting on April 21, the two sides disagreed over the opposition's demand for the release of southern political activists and journalists from jails. Also at issue was the opposition's claim that government media outlets were publishing negative reports about them that were untrue.

"It was the president who had halted the dialogue. He said he would not release prisoners and stop harassment of the media and democracy activists," Mr al Sabri said. In September, the JMP released the National Salvation Vision, a document calling for a national dialogue to bring an end to conflicts in the country. Mr al Sabri said the JMP had talked to southern leaders living in exile "and signed a coalition deal with the Houthis who have agreed to participate in the national dialogue, give up violence and work towards peace in Sa'ada.

"We have also started talks with the leaders of the Southern Movement where national dialogue committees will kick off their talks in the south this month. We have staged rallies in 15 provinces and will gradually move to protests and sit-ins. "We have a national change project and we are peacefully working to this end." Abdulbari Taher, an independent political analyst, said holding an election now would complicate the country's problems, pointing to unrest in provinces in both the north and south of the country.

"There is also political rejection in other parts of the country. Any election would further complicate the situation and might push it into armed confrontation. The election will not be a solution," Mr Taher said. Mr Taher said that the government is worried about the coalition between the JMP, al Houthis and the Southern Movement. "If the JMP succeeds in drawing in the Houthis and the Southern Movement leaders into politics, convincing the rebels to give up arms as well as the southern activists to give up demands of separation and violence, it would then put the regime in a corner," he said.

"It is in the interest of the regime that the situation in the north remains tense and might start the fight again to embroil the JMP into the turmoil of allying with an armed rebellion. This makes us conclude that both the regime and the JMP are in a fix." malqadhi@thenational.ae