To Vote or Not to Vote?: Yemen’s Presidential Elections

Article Summary
In November 2011, nearly a year after mass anti-government protests began in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down. On February 21, Yemenis will go to the polls to elect their first new president in three decades. Aydarous Nasr al-Nakib speaks to voter hesitancy, stressing the importance of participating in these elections.

There is no doubt that the holding of early presidential elections [in Yemen] represents a pivotal moment in the path of change desired by the Yemeni people. On this path, the nation will be led from the current transitional stage to government rule, and from a political system governed by one [man] and his family to a state where institutions are governed by laws and a constitution.

We should envisage how the situation would have been had [Saleh] chosen not to sign the GCC initiative [a plan to transfer power to a national government]. [This initiative] was not demanded by the revolutionaries or the revolution. [Let us imagine what it would have been like] were the saboteurs, God forbid, to continue manipulating the political atmosphere and obstructing the election process to thwart [any competition]. What would the situation in Yemen be if the legitimate president [Saleh] had remained in power [after thirty consecutive years of rule] and continued with his policies of killing, destruction, looting and division?

[A consideration of such] scenarios is important in that it underlines the importance of early presidential elections. [These elections will secure] the goals of the revolution and are a first step on the path of change. This need for change is what prompted the Yemenis to revolt throughout the country and sacrifice thousands of martyrs, [not to mention the] wounded and kidnapped individuals.

Early presidential elections will allow Yemen to move [on] to the next stage. Local, regional and international arenas all agree on the importance of holding the elections. Based on that [consensus], the Yemenis should realize that holding elections is the really only way to move forward towards change.

There are a number of issues that are worth discussing in order to eliminate a number of ambiguities surrounding the elections. In addition, many questions, challenges and hopes surround the election process.

First: It is important to understand the viewpoints of certain components of the Southern Mobility Movement [SMM], who are calling for a boycott of the elections. Their rejection of the elections is based on their [projections] that the exclusionist and segregationist policies that have been exercised against the South since [the civil war of] 1994 would continue under the new regime. I was hoping that the ones who took part in that war against the South - and then joined [today’s] revolutionary ranks - would have announced their willingness to return [any] stolen property to the South.  That would have sent a message of good faith to the SMM components and demonstrated a desire to minimize the repercussions of war.  This would have been a way to encourage the SMM activists to positively deal with the elections and the revolutionary process at large.

Second: Everyone should know that the people of the South, when they first started their peaceful revolution a few years prior to the Arab Spring, were not demanding that the president, prime minister or parliament be from the South. Instead, they were rejecting how a unionist peaceful project was substituted by war. In their revolution they denounced how [the concept of] unity was used to deceive the Southern people, and [how it] turned the South from a partner in a [post-civil war] renaissance project into spoils of war for the conquerors. This situation persists even after the toppling of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the main propagator of the policies of occupation, theft and exclusion.

Third: Northern and the Southern Yemenis have the right to either boycott or participate in the elections.  What is unacceptable, however, is forcing people to boycott or participate in the elections. And just as it is unacceptable to force people to boycott the elections, it is also unacceptable to force them to participate. All political forces, whether they plan to participate or boycott the elections, agree on the latter.

Fourth: It is important to realize that Southern [Yemenis] expect the consensus presidential candidate to adopt new rhetoric toward the South and to all critical Yemeni issues. There is a need for a new rhetoric against the policies of arrogance, incrimination, and taboos, which have no meaning since they do not represent the aspirations of the people.  The consensus presidential candidate can bring joy to the hearts of the Southerners through an understanding of the intricacies involved in the Southern situation.

The presidential candidate can adopt a new approach by considering the South as a vital and essential partner in shaping the future of Yemen. But if he ignores the South or resorts to “political deafness,” as described by Dr. Muhammad al-Zahrani, then that will force many moderate SMM forces to resort to radical tactics. These tactics might not amuse those who claim that they are defending Yemen’s unity, which was damaged by the 1994 [civil war].

In conclusion, [failing to hold] early presidential elections will only mean the return of the toppled president.  He claims that he is the legitimate president of Yemen until the end of his tenure, even though everybody knows of his fraudulent origins.

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