Confrontation with the opposition
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 17 August, 2001
four-month-old government has run into a
confrontation with opposition parties over fuel prices and
At the end of July the oil ministry raised the price of diesel
by 70 per cent to 17 riyals (10 US cents) a litre. Bakers and
other businesses seized the opportunity to hike their prices by
more than the extra cost of fuel.
To soften the impact on government employees, the increase was
accompanied by 15 per cent pay rises for civil servants and 25 per
cent for the military.
The price rise was part of the IMF-backed reforms which aim to
remove subsidies on basic goods. The cost of diesel is a
particularly sensitive issue among farmers – who rely on it for
their tractors and four-wheel drive vehicles - and the last big
increase, in 1998, led to riots.
Officials say the diesel subsidy was costing the government 3.5
billion riyals ($20.7m) a month. According to several Yemeni
newspapers, a large proportion of the subsidy was going into the
pockets of smugglers who have been selling the bargain-priced fuel
in other countries.
Even at 17 riyals a litre, diesel is still only half the price
recommeded by the IMF, according to the Yemen Times.
In protest at the increase, seven opposition parties are
refusing to co-operate with the government in discussions about
changes to Yemen’s election law.
The group includes the Islamic/tribal Islah party - the only
opposition party which has substantial representation in
parliament. This provides a further signal that Islah’s guarded
co-operation with the ruling General People’s Congress party is
at an end (see MEI June 1).
The boycott seems intended to frustrate the government’s
hopes that all-party consultations will help to legitimise
Opposition parties have, however, made clear their view that
any reform should start by tackling the Supreme Elections
Committee, which supervises electoral processes and is widely
believed to lack independence. At present, the government appears
not to be including that in its plans.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s first local government elections, held
last February, are proving to be a bigger fiasco than at first
The election violence reportedly cost at least 45 lives and
results are still awaited in some districts.
But now the prime minister, Abd al-Qader Bagammal, has
announced that three-quarters of the newly elected councils cannot
start operating because of a lack of money, qualified staff and