Simmering differences between Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is still widely described as Yemen's president, and Khaled Bahah, the man he appointed as vice-president and prime minister, turned into an open rift yesterday when Hadi announced a cabinet reshuffle and Bahah rejected the changes.
Bahah, who was in Paris representing Yemen at the climate summit, is said to be aggrieved because Hadi over-stepped his powers in attempting the reshuffle. Yemen's constitution (Article 130) clearly states that cabinet ministers are to be chosen by the prime minister, though "in consultation with the president".
The dispute further undermines claims that the disastrous Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen is aimed at supporting "legitimate" government.
Hadi's own legitimacy – such as it was – has long since evaporated. Having served President Saleh's deputy, he became acting president when Saleh was eventually persuaded to step down and his position was confirmed, after a fashion, by a presidential "election" in 2012 where he was the only candidate.
The one-candidate election was unconstitutional but at the time it offered a way out of Yemen's political impasse and Hadi's presidential term was supposed to end with the completion of a two-year "transition" process. When the transition process collapsed, Hadi remained in office.
After the Houthi insurgents over-ran the capital, Sanaa, Hadi resigned under pressure but subsequently fled to Aden in the south and un-resigned. Fighting then spread to the south and in March Hadi went into exile in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Aden briefly in September but fled again when the city came under renewed attack. He returned again to Aden in mid-November.
Bahah, meanwhile, is completely unelected. Before Hadi appointed him prime minister in October last year, he was Yemen's permanent representative at the UN in New York. In April this year Hadi appointed him vice-president. He is regarded as a capable technocrat and a less divisive figure than Hadi in terms of an eventual reconciliation among Yemen's warring factions. There are widespread expectations that he will replace Hadi as president at some point.
A further element in Yemen's legitimacy problem is the rump parliament which has not been re-elected since 2003.
Under present conditions there is no prospect of restoring any degree of legitimacy by electoral means.
The Hadi-Bahah rift also has implications for UN-led moves towards peace talks where Hadi, unlike Bahah, is increasingly viewed as an obstacle.
Yesterday, Reuters quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying: "Hadi has been trying to block any kind of talks because he knows that any settlement will be the end of this political career."
Others say Hadi is clinging to the (slender) hope of military gains against the Houthis before any talks take place.
Although Hadi is accused of being obstructive it's unclear whether he is doing so with or without connivance from the Saudis. As I noted in an earlier blog post, the Saudis say they are not averse to peace talks if only Hadi would agree to them. However, this sounds rather implausible because Hadi is totally dependent on Saudi support and if the Saudis were serious about peace talks they would surely not have too much difficulty in persuading him to accept them.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 2 December 2015