by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 12 January, 2001
first local government elections, due next month, look set to turn
into a three-way contest.
The Yemen Socialist Party and the
conservative-Islamist Islah party will both be fielding
candidates, along with President Ali Abdullah Salih’s General
For the YSP, the formerly Marxist
party which ruled southern Yemen before unification in 1990, this
will be the first test of its electoral strength since the war,
almost seven years ago, in which the south attempted to secede
from the north.
The YSP boycotted the 1997
parliamentary election and was prevented by the electoral rules
from contesting the presidency in 1999.
Although a party spokesman
described the local elections as "basically ornamental"
(since key officials will still be appointed by the president and
prime minister) the YSP will be fielding more than 300 candidates
and is hoping to win seats in the southern provinces, as well as
Ta’izz further north.
The Islah party, meanwhile, was
still wavering over whether to participate when President Salih
turned up unexpectedly at its special conference on January 3.
"I am not here to pressurise
you to participate in the elections," he told the gathering,
according to the Yemen Observer. "You have every right to
boycott if you want, but I am saying that you will regret it if
you get out of the political game like others had done
Following the president’s
intervention, members left the decision on participation to Islah’s
Political Department, and it is expected that they will decide to
A boycott is, however, threatened
in al-Baidha province, where sheikhs of the Radman Aal Awadh tribe
and several hundred supporters held a three-day sit-in at the
They are seeking a separate
electoral district for their area, which has 32,000 people.
Unusually, it already has a local council, elected in 1983, which
has continued to meet despite the absence of funds from central
At the elections, on February 20,
voters will also be asked to approve constitutional amendments
which, among other things will extend the term of parliament from
four years to six, and that of the president from five years to
seven. The YSP is opposing the amendments.
In Aden, where security has been
extremely tight since the attack on USS Cole last October, five
small bombs exploded in the space of two days.
One exploded outside a church on
January 1, while another - probably a shell or rocket-propelled
grenade - missed its target, the Continental Hotel, and fell into
the sea. Both attacks seemed directed against New Year
festivities, which have often been denounced by Islamists.
The following day, the offices of
the official Saba news agency were targeted and two more
explosions were reported on major roads. There were no injuries.
The Yemeni authorities said they
had arrested Nasser Awadh al-Shiba, a member of the Islamic Army
of Aden-Abyan, which kidnapped 16 western tourists two years ago.
Altogether, 20 Islamists are said
to have been rounded up in Aden and the neighbouring province of
Abyan in connection with the blasts.
Last weekend, the YSP’s office
at Shaab, in Dhali’ province, was badly damaged by an explosion.
Again, there were no casualties.