Yemen was the first state on the Arabian peninsula to hold multi-party elections with universal suffrage and remains the only state holding elections at all levels (presidental, parliamentary and local council). There is a comprehensive legal framework for elections. However, while some legal provisions represent best electoral practice, others contain significant shortcomings.
Yemen has a tradition of resolving disputes between the government and the opposition through often last-minute political agreements, rather than through legislative amendments. This frustrates the development of a stable election framework based on lessons learned from previous processes.
A comprehensive reform of the legal and administrative framework is overdue. Reform should fully incorporate international standards for democratic elections such as Article 25 of the UN’s International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, as well as best practices. This would improve future elections and contribute to political stability. There is still time to address some legal shortcomings ahead of the parliamentary and local elections in spring 2009, and for the State Commission on Elections and Referenda (SCER) to clarify the implementation of legislation, for example by revising its electoral manuals.
Holding democratic elections in Yemen is challenging. The state is dominated by the President. The ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party enjoys a huge parliamentary majority. The GPC and opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) umbrella grouping have failed to agree on electoral reforms and there is now a risk that the JMP will boycott the 2009 elections. Holding elections which are neither pluralistic nor inclusive would be a significant backward step. Time is running out for the government and opposition to come to an agreement. It may already be too late to improve some aspects of the process, for example registering voters.