Foreign Policy Blogs

Yemen’s Presidential Elections, the Proof is in the Pudding

A couple of weeks shy of the scheduled presidential elections, Vice-President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi announced in an official ceremony that he would run for president, adding that he hoped Yemenis would entrust him with the responsibility of running the affairs of the state.

On Tuesday, Yemenis across the country woke up to find that a number of posters advocating their electoral participation had been hung throughout their towns and villages, reminding them of their democratic, constitutional and civic duties. But since VP Hadi is the only candidate running for president, and no matter how few people decide to show up to cast their vote the veteran politician will still be pronounced the winner, many Yemenis are wondering whether the whole thing is a farce and if they should indulge in such a travesty of the democratic system.

From Sana’a to Aden, the eastern shore of the Red Sea to the leafy hills of Hadramaut, Yemenis from all faiths and political denominations are asking the same question: “What does this have to do with us?”

Flash Back

At the beginning of it all, when Yemenis decided during the ousting of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak to rise against their own dictator, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they wanted to bring about real democracy, turning their country into a civil state where justice, freedom and equality would be revered notions, not just ink on paper. But as Saleh held on to his presidential seat and as blood started flowing through the streets of Sana’a, the capital and Taiz, a flash point of the Revolution, foreign nations scrambled to save Yemen from the precipice, too aware of its strategic importance within the region.

From that moment on, revolutionaries were put aside, ignored by the politicians, as diplomats and high ranking statesmen worked at finding a solution to the conundrum that had become Yemen. In between its many overlapping conflicts, widespread poverty and the threat of terror groups looming in the shadows, Yemen is unlike any other land. Very much like President Saleh put it himself, ruling over Yemen equates to “dancing over the heads of snakes”. But for one who truly understands the essence of Yemen, there is an order to the apparent chaos.

The GCC proposal that enunciated the terms of the power-transfer and its mechanisms never actually took into account the will of the people, but rather it was tailored around Saleh’s will, ensuring him an honorable exit with the promise of immunity. In other words, the fate of Yemen’s presidency was sealed by a group of technocrats and politicians, while the good people of Yemen were completely put on the back burner for it was “better this way.”

Democracy

VP Hadi, who is a member of the ruling party, was chosen by both the General People’s Congress and the Opposition as the candidate of the coalition, ensuring that no other contender would enter the presidential race.

And if even Western diplomats have argued that the move was intended to preserve the country’s unity and avoid a bitter battle for power from the various political factions, Yemenis saw no sense in it. Revolutionaries actually contested the legitimacy of the power-transfer deal from the very second it was inked in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, warning that they would continue to fight until Yemen power players would acknowledge their demands.

And although there was no further violent confrontation between the armed forces and the revolutionaries, at least not in the magnitude manifested before the agreement, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis across the nation are still demanding to be heard, rejecting as a whole “Saleh tailored plan.”

“Are you seriously telling me that a one-man-election can be called democratic? Are you telling me that after a year of suffering, blood spilled and all around misery, that the best the West and its minions could come up with is Hadi? Are Yemenis so stupid that the West does not trust them to choose their own leader? Why couldn’t we have a normal presidential elections like in Egypt based on the principle of political pluralism? Is it so hard to understand that Yemen wants a real civil state… not a make believe one where the old regime is still present but with a new face?” a leader of the Independent Youth argued.

Another sore point, which Yemeni are finding hard to swallow, lies in the fact that the United Nations, through its multitude of agencies, is currently throwing away several millions of dollars to organize the elections. “Millions of us are going hungry for we have lost everything in our struggle for freedom and rather than pull all the country’s resources together to bring some relief to war-torn areas, the government prefers to spend the UN money on stupid posters and presidential campaign? It is insulting to the nation. We don’t need posters but we need bread. So kindly Hadi, cash out your checks and feed your country,” said an English teacher in “Change Square”, the epicenter of the revolutionary movement.

Yemen is said to have spent 8 million dollars on Hadi’s campaign, with all the funds provided by Japan, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Given that the majority of the population lives on under $2 per day, this money could have prevented 4 million of people from going hungry or could have provided 80,000 families with an average salary of $100 for a month. Many are warning that in spite of the coalition government’s claims that all will be fixed after February 21st with Saleh’s departure from power, one might want to have a look at who is leading Yemen’s military. With his sons, nephews and brother still very much in charge of the nation’s fire power, Saleh might not have yet said his last goodbye to Yemen. In which case, the GCC proposal will only allow the autocrat to regroup and plan his comeback.

 

Author

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.

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