Yemen’s National Dialogue is running out of time

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Article Summary
The Yemeni National Dialogue Conference has revealed seemingly intractable differences.

The political parties participating in the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference (NDC) are continuing their discussions to resolve their outstanding issues more than two months past the deadline. This is happening amid an international fear expressed by statements by the Security Council, the UN secretary general and the ambassadors of the countries overseeing the transition process in Sanaa, and amid security and economic challenges as well as political differences.

The situation was made worse by the split in the Southern Movement at the NDC, when part of the movement declared that it was pulling out of the dialogue.

The time frame for the dialogue, which was launched in March with the participation of 565 members representing different political parties, effectively ended Sept. 18. Meanwhile, the transitional period is supposed to end in February 2014, according to the schedule set by the Gulf initiative and its executive mechanism.

Reaching an agreement before that date is impossible. Remaining tasks include writing a new constitution, putting it up for referendum, completing the new electronic electoral register, and amending the election law.

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Only six of the nine dialogue teams have completed their reports. The transitional justice team, the “southern issue” team, and the nation-building team failed to complete their tasks due to disputes over the number of provinces in the forthcoming federal state, the issues of political isolation, transitional justice and national reconciliation, and the safeguards that ensure that the dialogue decisions are implemented. Some want to have a new constituent phase, during which the term of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is extended.

The political parties represented in the mini-committee emanating from the southern cause team (which consists of members from the North and the South and is known as the 8+8 Commission) are expected to meet in the next two days. Jamal Benomar, the adviser to the UN secretary general and envoy to Yemen, is expected to return to Sanaa on Dec. 26 to resolve the dispute over the number of provinces, amid efforts ​​by Hadi and the UN envoy to persuade the Southern Movement wing that withdrew from dialogue to return and resolve that issue.

The Southern Movement’s split

Mohammed Ali Ahmed — the head of the “southern issue” team, a figure in the Southern Movement, and the head of the southern people’s congress — announced in late November his withdrawal from dialogue, accusing Hadi and the NDC’s secretariat of splitting the representatives of the Southern Movement. He also stressed his commitment to move the dialogue out of Yemen while ensuring that the southerners are given the right to “self-determination and the restoration of the state” that existed in the south before the unification with the north in 1990.

In parallel, a Southern Movement wing led by the NDC Vice President Yassin Makkawi and the vice president of the Yemeni parliament, Mohammad Ali al-Shaddadi, condemned that withdrawal and accused Ahmad of seeking “personal gain,” while asserting that most Southern Movement representatives will remain at the NDC till the end.

The NDC’s secretary-general, Ahmed bin Mubarak denied in official statements the charges made by Ahmed and minimized the importance of the withdrawal, saying, “The [Southern] Movement, as a component, is still present in the dialogue and is actively participating in all its meetings, be they the meetings of the presidency committee, the conciliation commission, transitional justice, or other teams.”

The “Southern issue” and the number of provinces

The Southern Movement is clinging to the establishment of a federal state made of two regions, one in the north and one in the south. The Socialist Party and the Houthis support this proposal, while other political forces refuse it, fearing that it would pave the way for the south’s secession. Rather, they support five regions or more, a proposal that Hadi supports. He had recently warned about infringing on the country’s unity and stressed that he would not allow for the “southern issue” to be exploited, in reference to the wing headed by Mohammed Ali Ahmed.

Fares al-Saqqaf, Hadi’s adviser for strategic issues and a member of the NDC, told Al-Hayat of “serious attempts” that Hadi supports to return Ahmad to the NDC and remove the differences among the representatives of the Southern Movement because it is “an essential component that chose to enter the dialogue and it must stay there till the end.”

According Saqqaf, the 8+8 Commission will meet as soon as Benomar returns. He added that on the horizon is an agreement that would end the dispute over the number of regions. He said that the agreement will either adopt the several regions proposal or will defer the issue and agree on “general governing trends whose details will be settled in the proposed constituent phase later, after the dialogue.”

Transitional justice and state-building

With regard to the state-building team not completing its report, Nabila al-Mufti asserted that the team has almost finished its work but didn’t submit its final report because it is linked to what the “southern issue” team will agree upon in terms of the shape of the state, the number of provinces and the nature of the regime, whether it is a presidential, parliamentary, or mixed.

The “conciliation commission” in the NDC, which consists of the committee of the dialogue president and the head of the nine teams, is trying to bring the various points of view of the various parties closer, and is discussing the proposals about the guarantees for the post-dialogue period.

The guarantees and the constituent stage

Informed sources told Al-Hayat that Hadi is pressuring the political factions to end their differences and quickly conclude the dialogue before the end of December. But the debate is intensifying on the political scene over the “guarantees” that will ensure the implementation of the dialogue’s outcomes.

Article 49 of the NDC’s regulatory mechanism requires the “conciliation commission,” which consists of the dialogue’s president and the heads of the nine dialogue teams, to follow up on the dialogue’s decisions and ensure their implementation after the dialogue ends.

The political parties consider that guarantee to be insufficient. So most of them called for moving to a participatory “constituent stage” where the elections are postponed and Hadi’s term is extended because his staying in power is the best guarantee to implement the dialogue’s decisions.

The Joint Meeting Parties, the Southern Movement and the Houthis support the idea of a “constituent stage” and assert that “the remaining time of the transitional period, as specified in the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism, is not enough to implement the remaining steps or to implement the dialogue’s outcomes,” which means, according to these forces, that the presidential elections cannot be held in February 2014 as scheduled.

Those forces suggest extending Hadi’s term for three to five years, during which the existing partnership in the unity government will continue and will expand to include other parties, such as the Houthis, the Salafists, the Southern Movement, nascent parties, independent parties and active youth currents.

Those forces also proposed dissolving parliament and converting the NDC into a transitional constituent assembly for three to five years so that it oversees the application of the dialogue’s outcomes and build the new state’s institutions.

A prominent wing in the General People’s Congress that supports former president Ali Abdullah Saleh opposes extending Hadi’s term and sees it as “an effort to cling to power in alliance with a political movement that wants to control the rest of the state’s institutions and put them under its grip.”

A third party, represented by independent members in the NDC, is proposing a mid-way solution that they consider a way out of the impasse that the other parties can agree to. That solution consists of extending Hadi’s term by means of a consensus presidential election, as in 2012.

That third party claims that their proposal satisfies those calling for Hadi’s extension as well as the demands of those insisting on the Gulf initiative and its mechanism, which requires elections to be held. The third party also asserts that their proposal will impart to Hadi “a renewed legitimacy, by consensus, which would enable him to implement the dialogue’s outcomes and achieve a power partnership among all the political parties.”

Saqqaf confirmed that “there is an unprecedented consensus among the political parties to adopt the 'constituent stage,' which will be based on a supplementary agreement to the Gulf initiative and it would include the tasks of this constituent phase.”

According to Saqqaf, if the idea of a constituent phase is adopted, the NDC will issue two documents: The first will consist of the nine teams’ decisions (a copy of that document will be deposited with the UN); and the second will be about the constituent stage.

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Found in: yemeni unification, yemeni opposition, southern secession in yemen, southern movement, south yemen, north yemen, national dialogue
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