The importance of a strong opposition
The year 1990, when South Yemen and North Yemen united, marked an extraordinary democratic stage for Yemen because the country was ruled by a coalition of two parties; that of the north – the General Peoples Congress – and of the south – the Yemeni Socialists Party.
The elections in 1993 brought an additional party into rule; the strongest opposition party at the time, Islah. For a few years, the Yemeni government was made up of three parties – almost as it is today.
However, the euphoria came to an end in 1997, with Islah no longer approving of how things were managed. The party of the north, the GPC, was still holding majority of parliamentary seats and indirectly dominating the scene by maintaining control of key military institutions and ministries.
Islah decided that it was better off as an opposition party because sharing power – without really sharing it – was not useful. So it boycotted the parliamentary elections in 1997, and Yemen went back to a two-party rule, governed by the GPC and the YSP.
In the 2003 parliamentary elections, Islah competed viciously and after the GPC, won majority of seats. In so doing, it kicked the YSP out of the power zone. However, in order to build a stronger powerbase and a more influential opposition, the YSP joined hands with Islah and another three opposition parties. This was the start of what is known today as the Joint Meeting Parties, which competed for presidential and local elections in 2006 creating a dent in both the GPC’s ego and popularity.
However, throughout the years, direct elections did not provide the opposition with the winning vote, but Yemen’s uprising finally gave them the upper hand. Islah, the YSP and other opposition parties could not have dreamed of a better opportunity to win power in Yemen today. If it had not been for the youth in the squares, the scales might never have been tipped in favor of the opposition.
Today the JMP is again sharing power with the GPC. However the opposition is leading the government, with a prime minister from the opposition coalition. While this allows the country to move on from last year’s political stalemate, it leaves no strong opposition parties to keep a check on those.
This is a problem. I predict that unless Yemenis – in the squares and elsewhere – create functional opposition parties, there is a risk that citizens will be ignored in favor of power.
Yemen is going through transition now. But this transition and the fruits of the revolution will not materialize unless there is a strong civil society to keep the politicians in check – and that includes opposition parties. There is no better time for creating and encouraging the creation of a strong civil society if we want real democracy and real change.