Yemen elections, 1997

Statement by British medium-term observers, 1997

30 April 1997

Following an invitation from the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC), the British government sent a team of four to observe the general elections in the Yemeni Republic. The team arrived in Sana'a on 6 April 1997 preceding by two weeks the short - term observers from a number of other countries and organizations.

The Yemeni government has committed itself to internationally accepted electoral standards which take time to achieve. This statement is intended to assist the Yemeni authorities in building upon the laudable progress they have made to date, towards that goal.

To the extent that this was possible, the British team has reviewed Yemen's international law obligations, the domestic legislative framework, the electoral administration, registration of voters and the distribution of voting cards, voter education, the nomination of candidates, the electoral campaign, polling procedures, and the counting of the votes.

International and domestic treaty and legislative framework

Yemen ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 in 1987. Article 25 provides for, inter alia, genuine elections.

The SEC acknowledges that as a result of the late promulgation of the Election Law of 1996, it has not been properly constituted in accordance with the requirements of that Law.

Registration was conducted under the 1992 Election Law whilst appeals in relation to registration were lodged under the new law.

This unsatisfactory situation could have been avoided if the Election Law of 1996 had been promulgated in January 1996 allowing parliament the required five months to propose candidates for a new SEC. It could alternatively have been rectified if the authorities had acknowledged that the legislative timetable was not harmony with the electoral administrative timetable and had postponed the elections. The authorities would have thus removed the grounds for the criticism which has been levelled at them by some groups.

Legal redress

Despite the existence of complaints procedures, administrative and legal, the team met an almost universal skepticism as to whether, given the widely perceived lack of real judicial independence, there were any real avenues of redress for those with grievances.

Electoral administration

An elaborate structure of committees administered the Election Law under the overall command of the SEC. The British team were impressed by the calibre of the chairmen of supervisory committees at governorate level - some were outstanding. At lower levels, performance varied, reflecting the amount of training that had been absorbed. One notable weakness was the low status and sometimes poor training given to the women's committees. Communications were adequate and security was extensive, in some cases excessively so, reflecting the SEC's fear of disturbances.

Registration of voters

The British team regrets that international observers were not present at the time of registration and appeals during 1996.  International observation of more than the last month before polling day would rebut allegations that international observers are mere "decorations" for the mechanical polling and counting procedures; elections can be most effectively rigged at the registration stage.

The system allows for abuse of the registration process by the authorities in that military personnel and itinerant workers from one part of country could vote in another part of the country, in some cases with the effect of influencing the result. Indeed, the British team witnessed two examples of this.

Low voter participation

More than one million voters of those registered (24% of the official estimated figure) failed to collect their registration cards, in spite of extensive media encouragement by the SEC.

Freedom of expression

The team was concerned by restrictions placed on the freedom of expression of those who do not agree with the current political process.

Candidates

The team was disappointed by the fact that so few women stood as candidates compared to 1993, contrary to the stated commitment by all political parties to encourage women's participation.

Campaigning, polling,counting

Save for a few minor technical irregularities, the team was satisfied that the Regulations and Election Law were adhered to.

The British team wish to congratulate the SEC and all its subsidiary committees, especially those men and women working in the polling stations and counting centres, for the efficiency with which they have organized and conducted these elections and for the patience and good humour displayed while working in very difficult conditions. Similarly, the team was heartened by the efforts made by some voters, in the face of adverse circumstances, to come and cast their vote.

Finally, the team congratulates all citizens for the calm and discipline with which they have exercised their right to vote or not to vote.