Yemen's president edges towards the door

Yemen is slowly edging towards a negotiated departure for President Ali Abdullah Salih. The latest proposal put forward by negotiators from the Gulf Cooperation Council appears to have been accepted in principle by Salih and to a large extent by opposition parties – though they still have reservations about it.

Under the plan, the first step would be for parliament to grant immunity from prosecution for Salih, his family and his associates.

Salih would resign within 30 days and hand over to his vice-president, Abd al-Rab Mansur Hadi.

A transitional government would be formed, including representatives from the opposition.

A presidential election would be held within 60 days and the new president would supervise the drafting of a new constitution.

Not surprisingly, opposition parties are unhappy about granting immunity and many of the protesters on the streets simply refuse to contemplate the idea. This seems to be the main stumbling block at present.

There are also fears that Salih could try to find a way of staying on: postponing his resignation by 30 days seems unnecessary and it might give him some opportunity to wriggle out of the deal. Once immunity had been formally granted there would be no real excuse for him to remain in power any longer.

One possible snag is that his resignation would have to be submitted to parliament, where his party has an overwhelming majority, and there is no guarantee that the members would accept it.

Another problem is that under the current plan the new government would be formed within seven days of a deal being signed – in other words, while Salih is still president. This would give him considerable influence over the transition.

There is no mention in the plan of a dissolution of parliament and so, amid the talk about drafting a new constitution, it seems that parliamentary elections will have to wait. While there is some sense in holding the next elections under a new constitution (with a new electoral law too), the effect in the meantime is that Salih's party, the General People's Congress, will continue to control parliament where it won 238 seats out of 301 in the 2003 election. This could make it much more difficult to dismantle the remains of Salih's regime if/when the president goes.

The parliamentary term is six years. In 2009 the next elections were postponed for a further two years and were actually due to be held this week, on April 27, but in March they were postponed again, supposedly because the electoral registers were not ready.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 24 April 2011