Yemen to Hold Presidential Referendum February 21

Article Summary
Yemen’s upcoming referendum has provoked controversy because of its ties to the GCC Initiative that granted immunity to outgoing President Saleh. Abdelrachid Abdelhafez here encourages Yemenis to seize the vote as an opportunity to do away with the last vestiges of the old regime and shape a new, democratic future for their country.

Many Yemenis have raised questions about the presidential elections scheduled to take place on February 21. Perhaps the most important of these questions is: Will Yemen witness elections or a referendum? What is the purpose behind holding the elections when we know that they will not be competitive? Would it have been better for Yemen to have saved the money instead of wasting it on elections? Furthermore, participating in the elections means acceptance of the GCC initiative, especially for those who have rejected it. Will it be considered betrayal to the blood of the righteous martyrs? We will attempt to address these questions in the following points:

First: We should stress that what will take place on 21 February is a referendum on Vice President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s appointment as the next Yemeni President, in which voters will have to respond with yes or no.  This is the accurate implementation of what was mentioned in the mechanism of the GCC initiative. We should understand that choosing not to hold competitive elections is greatly related to the circumstances of the transitional period. The real elections will take place following the [introduction of a] new constitution, which will include amendments concerning the establishment of the modern Yemeni state that is desired.

Second: While the candidates will not be running in competitive elections, it is important for candidate Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to gain the highest possible number of votes in the referendum, because that will achieve the following:

1.   Grant the transitional president Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi popular approval from the public, which will give him greater confidence and the ability to take the difficult decisions required during the transitional stage.
2.   The success of the referendum means that the public is in consensus over the toppling of Ali Saleh’s regime and the dark [era represented by his reign].
3.   The success of the referendum will give public legitimacy to the transitional phase, which is constitutionally required.
4.   February 21 may be considered a historic event in Yemen’s political history and in the course of the revolution.  The referendum could see enthusiastic public participation that can be used by the revolutionaries to achieve the first goal of their revolution. Those who have not had the chance to participate in the revolution can now express their opinion and exert efforts to support the revolution through taking part in the referendum.  Yemenis will be able to overcome the past, bury Ali Saleh’s regime forever, and begin the formation of  the new Yemen.

Third: Regarding the issue of financing the elections, experts note that the cost of the elections will be mainly financed by grants from international organizations and donor countries. Thousands of individuals responsible for managing the elections will benefit from these grants. These grants can also benefit the national economy at large, because these sums of money will be deposited in Yemen as hard currency.

Fourth: Does participating in the elections mean accepting the GCC initiative? Will it imply that we have betrayed the souls of the martyrs?

In fact, there is no connection between rejecting the GCC initiative - out of objection to a number of its clauses or all its clauses - and participating in the election of a new president to replace the toppled one.  Electing a new president will only mean the ultimate end of the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, which is one of the main demands of the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries are supposed to use every opportunity - including this one proposed by the mechanism of the GCC initiative - to achieve this goal. Hence, participating in the elections does not mean acceptance of the initiative. Instead, it means siezing an available opportunity to achieve one of the goals of the revolution, which is a legitimate and an essential act.

For this reason, people were wrong to claim that participating in the elections is a deviation from the path of the revolution and an act of betrayal to the souls of the martyrs. Such emotional statements lack any practical meaning and cannot stand up to rational arguments.

We have to realize that we cannot honor the respectable martyrs through nihilistic rejection of everything. Loyalty will not be expressed through hindering the process that will allow Yemenis to completely get rid of the toppled head of the former regime by replacing him with a newly-elected president. Furthermore, demonstrating loyalty to the martyrs cannot be done through sowing division and discord among the ranks of the revolutionaries, while dragging them into trivial and baseless disputes. We can honor the martyrs by walking the path towards achieving the goals that they sacrificed their lives to attain. To this end, we call upon all Yemenis to make February 21 a date to remember in our modern history. They are capable of making that happen during this peaceful and civilized [referendum], which will hopefully involve the active participation of all segments of society in appointing a new president to replace the toppled one. We loudly declare the end of the tyrant’s regime and the beginning of a new phase.

To truly honor the martyrs, February 21 ought to be made a day to welcome the future and revive the spirit of the revolution in our hearts and lives. We will leave the negative phase [of Saleh’s rule] behind and contribute to the positive transformation of our nation through working towards change. With this referendum we will be able to accomplish the remaining goals of the revolution by getting rid of the last vestiges of the [Saleh] regime. Then we can begin to construct a modern, democratic state [based on] institutions. In this new nation, we shall not eliminate anyone nor shall we seek revenge. We shall all be under the rule of law; and I believe that circumstances are in our favor now more than ever before. So - are we up to the challenge?

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