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Cablegate: Setting the Stage for Yemen,S Parliamentary

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SANAA 000818

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM YM DEMOCRATIC REFORM DOMESTIC POLITICS
SUBJECT: SETTING THE STAGE FOR YEMEN,S PARLIAMENTARY
ELECTION

REF: SANAA 706

1. (U) Summary: The April 27 parliamentary elections
should be the most competitive elections ever in Yemen. This
third parliamentary election in Yemen's emerging democracy
presents a challenge and an opportunity for Yemen to move
forward. The potential for violence threatens to mar what
observers believe will be a mostly free and fair election
(ref). Many issues will affect the election's outcome,
including opposition party coordination or lack thereof, poor
candidate selection, campaign issues, few women candidates
and effective election observation. End Summary.

-------------------------------
Most Competitive Elections Ever,
Higher Potential for Violence
-------------------------------

2. (U) Unlike in past elections, little evidence of
"backroom" coordination between the GPC and Islah parties has
emerged. In 1997, the parties negotiated to create "safe"
constituencies for each other, both because they were running
in an informal coalition and because they wished to avoid
violent clashes in high-tension areas. The Yemeni Socialist
Party (YSP), former ruling party of pre-unification People's
Democratic Republic of Yemen, is running in this election,
another major difference from 1997 when they boycotted.
These two factors mean that the 2003 elections should be the
most competitive in Yemen ever. An informal count by
knowledgeable observers indicates that approximately 120 of
301 constituencies should be highly competitive "hot" races,
primarily in Sanaa city and the Aden, Taiz and Hadramaut
governorates.

3. (U) The increased competition and resultant tension
causes many observers to fear increased violence during this
election period. Past elections have seen flare-ups of
violence in random constituencies between political parties
and between tribes. In some instances, this violence was the
result of warring tribes using the elections as "an excuse"
to continue fighting that has gone on for decades. In other
instances, the fighting has flared up because of disputes
between partisans. The ROYG, political parties and NGOs have
made significant efforts in recent months to discuss how to
combat the possibility of violence, including the signing by
22 political parties of a Code of Conduct on April 8
(septel). Observers fear, however, that these efforts may
not be entirely effective as election day approaches even
with an increased security presence throughout Yemen.

4. (U) Political observers are finding that the heavy
competition makes predictions of election results difficult.
A vast majority believe that the GPC will retain its majority
with little difficulty, but many also see the likelihood of
the Islah party significantly increasing its number of seats.


---------------------------------------
Opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)
---------------------------------------

5. (U) The Islah party, YSP and most small opposition
parties comprise the JMP, which was formed in early 2002 to
more effectively challenge the ruling GPC. At several points
in the last several months, JMP cohesion was threatened. For
example, the assassination of YSP leader Jarallah Omar at the
Islah party conference December 28, 2002 could have caused
the JMP to break up. However, in a development that
surprised many observers, the JMP has managed to remain
largely coordinated.

6. (U) The JMP failed to negotiate which party,s
candidates would run in which areas in all constituencies.
Among the largest parties, the YSP gave way to Islah
candidates in 130 constituencies while Islah gave way to YSP
candidates in 30 constituencies. Negotiations with the
smaller parties in the coalition did not result in many
agreements. A majority of the JMP competitive constituencies
are located in Aden, Hadramaut and Sanaa, areas where the YSP
and Islah both believed themselves well able to win.

--------------------------------------------- -
Sheikh al-Ahmar -- "Joint" GPC-Islah Candidate
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (U) Leader of the Islah party and recent Speaker of
Parliament Sheikh al-Ahmar will run unofficially as a "joint"
candidate for the GPC and Islah. Negotiations between the
GPC and Islah to orchestrate a switch in high positions
between al-Ahmar and Shura Council Chairman Abdul Ghani
failed. These negotiations were fueled by the realization
that if the GPC retained its majority, it would not make
sense to re-elect an Islahi because the two parties no longer
form an informal governing coalition. At the same time,
al-Ahmar,s profile and power necessitated a high position in
the complicated balancing act that is Yemeni politics. It
appears that the ROYG and the GPC calculated that, in the
absence of an agreement to switch, it was prudent to make the
re-election of al-Ahmar politically feasible by announcing
him as being supported by both parties. Al-Ahmar is expected
to win because the same token opposition candidate that runs
against him regularly will be his only competition, setting
the stage for al-Ahmar,s likely re-election as Speaker of
Parliament.

-----------------
Candidate Choices
-----------------

8. (U) Approximately 1,500 candidates are running in the
301 constituencies, including political party and independent
candidates. This number is significantly lower from past
elections. Some observers have blamed the war in Iraq for
the decrease, alleging that it reduced the number of
candidates, lowered citizen interest and created
opportunities for opposition parties to gain votes through
anti-U.S./ROYG campaigning. However, the decrease is more
likely a result of opposition parties coordinating candidates
and complicated measures by which independent candidates can
register that decreased their number significantly.

9. (U) Political observers note that decentralization in
candidate nomination by the GPC and Islah parties caused
deterioration in "candidate quality" in some cases and
lowered the chances for women being nominated. Many
candidates are believed to be illiterate and were nominated
out of local or tribal power centers rather than from among
the educated.

10. (U) Presidential son Ahmed Saleh, head of the Yemeni
Special Forces, did not run again. A well-traveled joke from
the last parliament was that its numbers of Members were "300
Ahmed," an indication of what many thought of his
effectiveness as a Member. In his constituency, the former
Mayor of Sanaa is the GPC candidate, someone that many
believe corrupt.

-----------------------
Active Campaign; Issues
-----------------------

11. (U) Halfway through the 19-day official campaign
period, the election campaign is in full swing. Campaign
posters are everywhere, political party newspapers publish
almost daily and coverage on television and in newspapers is
widespread. Political party platforms are published in their
entirety in official and opposition papers alike. Concerns
that the war in Iraq would greatly affect the election --
including rumors for several months that the elections would
be postponed should a war begin -- have dissipated with the
fall of Saddam's regime.

12. (U) Campaign issues vary, with the most prominent being
the economy, law and order, and corruption. In many cases,
parties seem to run less on specific issues than on candidate
or leadership personalities and whether they are government
or opposition. The issues of U.S.-ROYG counterterrorism
cooperation and, in relation, the war in Iraq, do not appear
to be the huge issues that the ROYG and ruling GPC feared.
Nevertheless, political observers believe that these issues,
with an attendant flavor of an "American fight against
Islam," will increase the Islah party vote.

--------------------
Few Women Candidates
--------------------

13. (U) In what many consider the biggest disappointment of
the run-up to the election, only 11 women are running for
election. They represent four political parties, including
GPC and YSP, and include five independents. Not only has
Yemen allowed universal suffrage since 1993 (the first on the
Arabian Peninsula), but both parliaments in 1993 and 1997 had
women Members. Some observers and political parties fear
that no women will be elected this time and Yemen will
backslide in its women,s representation.

14. (U) Several domestic and international NGOs and some
political parties had advocated for either a formal or
informal "set-aside" for women candidates to ensure at least
10 percent representation. Ideas included parties informally
agreeing to run only women in 30 selected constituencies and
a formal last-minute change in the election law to mandate
"women,s constituencies." Several problems caused the low
number of women candidates, including a decision by the Islah
that they would lose a large part of their base should they
run women, decentralization in candidate selection that left
central party bodies without the ability to place women
candidates, increased competition that caused parties to be
reluctant to run women they thought might be weaker
candidates than men and a traditional male-dominated society.
A formal resolution in the election law was not feasible
before the election, and many are discussing the possibility
of raising the issue after the election.

--------------------
Election Observation
--------------------

15. (U) The National Democratic Institute for International
Affairs (NDI) is fielding the only official international
observation delegation. 30 delegates from 10 countries,
including several in the Middle East, will observe. More
than 30,000 domestic election observers are registered as
well, including between 6-10,000 NDI-trained observers. The
Embassy plans to informally observe the elections. Details
on observation septel.
HULL

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