The Yemen Parliament Watch (YPW) is a project implemented by YPC and financed by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Its purpose is to enhance the capacity of the Yemeni parliament by providing a central hub of information and data for its members. Furthermore, the same information is made available to concerned civil society organizations (CSOs), journalists, and the public. The ultimate goal of this project is to support the parliament and develop a communication channel between members of Parliament (MPs), voters, and citizens in general. One of the components of the YPW project is regular evaluations of the parliament’s performance. The following performance report is the fifth of its kind and covers the period between November 2011 and December 2013. It is a critical assessment of what the parliament has accomplished in this period. By analyzing and exposing the activities of the parliament, it is the goal of this report to enhance the institution’s role in a democratic system. Furthermore, the report provides citizens, CSOs, and media outlets with information on parliamentary procedures. Data presented in this report was collected by the YPW either during parliamentary sessions or through in-depth interviews with members of parliament or parliamentary staff. All performance reports published in the framework of the YPW project are available for download on www.ypwatch.org. 11
Parliament Performance Report Political Context: The Yemeni Parliament and the “Arab Spring”
The period under scrutiny in this report (November 2011 – December 2013) makes up a large part of Yemen’s transitional period initiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement. This agreement brought about a transfer of power after eleven months of popular protest in 2011. The so-called ‘Youth Revolution’ disrupted the country’s already precarious political, economic and social stability. The main issues that led to the 2011 protests were rampant corruption, high levels of unemployment and pervasive poverty. The failure of state institutions to respond to the demands of the people and serve their interests fed into a widespread dissatisfaction with the government. In the years prior to the 2011 protests, this dissatisfaction was evident in extra-parliamentary opposition movements, such as the southern separatists and the Houthis. Additionally, instances of conflict among the political parties were increasing. A significant point of strife between the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and the opposition parties, otherwise known as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), was electoral reform. Since the conclusion of the 2006 presidential elections, the JMP had been consistently demanding the reform of the electoral system. However, the government failed to take adequate measures in these areas in a participatory and transparent manner. Parliament has been an essential arena for opposition parties to contest the GPC. The parliamentary elections, which were originally scheduled to be held in April 2009, were used by the JMP to pressure the GPC to implement the desired electoral reforms. Even so, the government began the election preparation process without taking into consideration the reform demands made by the JMP. In return, the opposition boycotted parliamentary sessions and mobilized a countrywide boycott of the voter registration process in 2008. In February of 2009, an agreement was reached between the two blocs. Known as the ‘Twenty-third of February Agreement’, it stipulated the postponement of the elections for two years and that the electoral system should be reformed in the meantime. In order to resolve the ongoing conflicts with southern separatists and the Houthis in the north, a national dialogue was mandated. Given the requirements of the supreme national interest and the necessity of holding fair, free, and secure parliamentary elections in a proper political climate in which all political parties take part, the following signers support the necessity of taking constitutional procedures needed to amend the article (65) of the constitution to allow extending the Parliament’s term two extra years. Due to the lack of sufficient time to make the needed reforms, the following steps should be undertaken: First, providing the opportunity to political parties and civil society organizations to discuss the constitutional amendments needed to develop the political and electoral systems including the party-list proportional representation system. Secondly, allowing the political parties represented in the Parliament to complete the discussion of topics which were not agreed on during the amendment preparation of the election law and including the agreed points in the law. Thirdly, reconstruction of the Supreme Commission for Election and Referendum (SCER) according to the law articles. (Saba News Agency) 12 YPC Parliament Performance Report Evaluating Parliament Performance in the Transitional Period: November 2011-December 2013 Both the reforms and the national dialogue were never implemented. Instead, the GPCdominated Parliament continued to pass reforms without considering the demands of the opposition. In December 2010, Parliament agreed to a constitutional amendment that abolished the limit of presidential terms. This would have allowed then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in office for life. This decision caused an escalation in political conflict. The JMP mobilized its members from all over the country in protest. In early 2011, the protests began to spread throughout the country. With protests in the capital of Sana’a the opposition was able to pressure then-President Saleh into making concessions and offering wide-reaching reforms on February 2, 2011. Initially, the opposition parties accepted the reform offers and stopped calling for protests. In the meantime, inspired by the events of the so-called “Arab Spring,” students and human rights activists had begun to protest on the streets demanding the fall of the Saleh regime. Consequently, in late February the JMP withdrew its acceptance of Saleh’s reform offers and joined the popular and non-partisan protests on the street demanding the resignation of the president. This shift was due to the increase in the use of government violence against civilian protesters. As the political crisis unfolded, Parliament did not have an effective role in trying to find a solution. Following the events of the so-called ‘Friday of Dignity’, when over fifty protesters were killed by armed men at ‘Change Square’ in Sana’a, the GPC dominated Parliament granted President Saleh’s request for a thirty day state of emergency. It then suspended all of its activities in May 2011. Only in November 2011, Parliament resumed its activities after the GPC and the JMP came to an agreement. The agreement between the political parties came in the shape of a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). On November 23, 2011 former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with the GPC and the JMP, signed the so-called GCC initiative. This led to a transitional process with the goal to re-stabilize the country politically, socially and economically. President Saleh’s signature on the initiative was his formal resignation. It provided that the president would transfer his powers to the vice president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. One of the GPC’s conditions for signing to the initiative was that both the GPC and JMP would agree to Hadi as consensus candidate for the presidential elections. Furthermore, the initiative mandated that the vice president was to call for early presidential elections within three months of its signing. In December 2011, one month after the signing of the GCC Initiative, a transitional government was formed. It was equally composed of GPC and JMP members. Three months later, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi was elected in nationwide elections without competition. Parliamentary elections are stipulated to be held after the completion of the transitional period. Thus, Parliament still remains unchanged in terms of its composition for the time of the transitional period. The GPC still holds the majority of seats, and thus dominates the institution.