The opposition is divided between the desire to vote or boycott the uncontested “election” today. The opposition party coalition the Joint Meeting Party (JMP) has also been divided over the election. Officially they have called on their members to vote, but some members decided to boycott the election. Religious scholars, tribesmen, independent youth activists, and members of civil society are also divided on the election.
While the majority of people recognize the obvious flaws in the uncontested election many, especially in the capital Sana’a, have decided to nevertheless vote. Their reasons to vote vary and include the following:
- Individuals who believe that the election marks a historic day as it will officially announce the end of Saleh’s 33 year rule.
- Individuals who voted not necessarily for Hadi, but more for the belief in the transitional period. Their vote was a symbol of hope for a new Yemen.
- Others are voting to give legitimacy to the new president Hadi, hoping his votes will exceed four million, which was the number of votes Saleh received in the last presidential elections in 2006.
- Some citizens were mislead to believe if Hadi does not get enough votes, Saleh will literarlly return to rule, i.e he will become the Preisdent again. (based on the GCC implementing mechanism, this is impossible as Saleh has already signed that Hadi is the next president).
- Other citizens are voting because of a belief that their vote would not necessarily solve future problems, but at least prevent violent clashes that may turn to a war.
Not everyone agrees with the above ideas, and hence national protests against the “election” took place on Monday February 20, one day before the elections. Songs calling to boycott the elections and posters against the “appointment” were distributed.
Those who advocate a boycott of the “election” consist of three main categories of people: independent youth members who outright oppose any political process including negotiations with the ruling party. Hence they reject the GCC implementing mechanism in its entirety including the transitional government and the “election.”
The two most powerful resistance entities the Houthis and the Southern Secessionists have outright rejected the elections. The Southern secessionists see the elections as a vote for maintaining Northern/Southern unity which many are against. The Houthis have rejected the elections as an extension of their rejection for the GCC.
Finally, independent youth groups who believe in a political process and agree that a transition period is necessary. In fact they may agree that Hadi should lead, but will nevertheless boycott the election.
The reasons for the boycott vary from person to person, but include mainly the following:
- Individuals who believe the street is what delegitimized the previous government and it is the street that will provide the legitimacy not the ballot box.
- While the election represents the end of Saleh’s 33 presidency, it does not represent the end of the regime. Changing personalities in a structure that remains the same will mean that no change will happen.
- The belief that the hype on the election is a means to distract people from the real reform that needs to take place including military, judicial and constitutional reform. Saleh’s son, nephews and relatives still hold high positions in the military. While the GCC stipulates that a military reshuffling will take place after the election, some people doubt Hadi’s ability to truly advocate for such reforms.
- Some individuals believe it should have been called an appointment, rather than an election. It was already stated in the GCC that Hadi is going to rule the country, so an announcement of his appointment for a transitional period would have been the more honest approach. This is not just a case of semantics, but more about building trust between citizens and the new government.
- Millions of dollars should not have been spent on “monitoring” an uncontested election when there are other more pressing priorities in the country, including a humanitarian crisis. While many state that this amount of money is not as large as other countries receive, it would have made a significant impact on those who cannot find food, shelter, or health care.
I personally fall in the latter group. While as a graduate of international relations, I wholeheartedly believe that a political process is necessary and a transitional period is vital for peace and stability in Yemen, nevertheless this election is quite a disappointment for me. The ballot today had one name, do we really want to start a new Yemen with a flawed process?
In short, I will not vote because I believe we deserve better. I believe in democracy, and I know this is not it. Elections are not democracy, they are just one component of a democratic process. The real moment of celebration for me will be when military restructuring, and judicial and constitutional reforms actually take place as a step towards independent institutions. Of course things will take time, but we need to remember what we went out to the street for: real systematic change not just Saleh’s removal from power.
What is next for Yemen?
President Hadi has a very difficult job ahead to satisfy popular demands. The hungry want to eat, students and the unemployed want jobs, businessmen want a better economy, and everyone wants electricity and water.
In addition, national reconciliation is of utmost importance. The Southern issue and the Houthi rebellion in the North, must be urgently addressed. The main question will be President Hadi’s ability to deal with national reconciliation, given that both groups have boycotted the election? What legitimacy will he have in their eyes? He has extended an open had to them, and promised to address their issues, but how can they have faith in that when their grievances about the election were completely ignored?
Of course the transitional government’s job, like the expectations is immense. The people of Yemen must also work hard to advocate for their rights. Today’s “election” is only the beginning. While the GCC implementing mechanism does not represent total change, it however has many articles that activists can use to push for real reform. Activists will need to become watchdogs and use what is in the GCC to their advantage. Without further reforms it will be as if no revolution had taken place because the regime has not fallen.
We are not the citizens of the past who were frozen by fear. We are an awakened street worthy of real change and we will continue to demand it