Written By: Mohammed Humaid Economist/ Journalist
Article Date: Mar 2, 2012 - 8:05:43 PM
The non-competitive presidential elections which were held on February 21were not designed to bring about a new president as much as to legitimize the sole nominee. Everyone had anticipated the outcome of the elections from the outset.
The early presidential elections were one of the pillars of the Gulf Council Initiative and therefore their result can be viewed as a referendum on the Gulf Cooperation Initiative.
The elections signify the first peaceful transition of power in the history of Yemen. Previous elections only reproduced the dominant power.
They also afford an opportunity to President Saleh to emulate established democracies by leaving the presidency on a high note. This may be a token gesture but it is important for projecting the image of peaceful and smooth transition that will become a new face of Yemen’s emerging democracy. The elections also enable President Saleh to preserve his dignity by being referred to in the future as the “former President” not the “ousted President.” A very important moral distinction in a society strongly linked to its tribal roots that glorify pride. His immunity from prosecution was an additional incentive to make things happen.
With the success of the peaceful transfer of power, the first phase of the transition period would have ended, paving the way for the second and more complicated two-year transition.
Challenges of the second phase are daunting; first, the government is seriously underfunded to even function properly. Since the uprising began last year public revenues have declined, oil exports interrupted and reserves diminished while payment for a huge civil service sector and army continued.
Financial support for the government budget is therefore a top priority. The sponsors of the Gulf Initiative are required to generously help the government get back on its feet.
However, such assistance should be attached to transparency and anti-corruption measures, an area the government can make huge strides. With so much focus on Yemen by the international community, and with the wall of fear torn, it’s unlikely that yesterday’s center of powers will continue to impoverish this country. They will probably keep a low profile and adopt wait and see policy.
Next the government has to consider how to unify its security and military so that they can become a force for the nation not for individuals.
This includes unifying their command and allegiance as well as redeployment of units. Preoccupation in the balance of power in the army has affected the military’s ability to simultaneously engage in other operations, including counterterrorism and diminished the ability of the central government to control much of the country, facing resistance from a populace who associates the central government with corruption, nepotism, blocked economic and social opportunities.
The ineffectiveness of the army has also led to a power vacuum in many parts of the country and has emboldened Houthi insurgents in the north of the Yemen and separatists in the south and more importantly, al-Qaeda has capitalized on this weakness by expanding its influence to new territories. Al-Qaeda is finding Yemen a safe ground for regrouping after being forced to exit Saudi Arabia. Analysts have observed a steady flow of al-Qaeda operatives to under-governed areas in Yemen. Failure to contain its expansion and its possible alliance with any of the other two insurgencies will pose a serious threat to central government authority, western interests in Yemen and the stability of the Gulf countries.
Next, the government has to consider how to improve its people’s living standards. The success of the elections has raised people’s expectations and brightened their outlook for the future.
These are good signs, but if people’s expectations are not met, the revolutionary blood still frying in the veins of the youths may trigger unrest once more under the banner of social injustice. We must remember that these youths are going through a state of euphoria after their success in toppling the regime, a feat which has opened their appetite for more.
They have high economic and social targets that transcend the ability of the economic resources of the country and they may not be aware of the underlying problems and constraints that impact the country’s choices and priorities.
There is an urgent need for efforts by those who have influence over the youths to tame their ambitions and allow time for the new leadership.
Next, the government will have to seriously consider long term institutional building and putting into place principles on which the foundations of a modern society can be built, including setting up inclusive political institutions, work ethics, social mobility, wealth through the work process rather than through force, blackmail, exploitation, subordination, tribal affiliation or patronage payoffs.
The road ahead looks very rocky but we have the advantage of regional and global good will on our side, a decisive factor for Yemen’s success.
* Mohammed Humaid Journalist/ economist
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