Yemen opposition threatens election boycott

Opposition says govt made unilateral electoral changes


Yemen's opposition threatened on Monday to boycott parliamentary elections next April and called for protests against the ruling party's plan to hold the poll without completing a political dialogue for electoral reforms.

The ruling party General People's Congress (GPC) said in October it would participate in an election scheduled for April 2011, dashing opposition hopes that the government would delay the poll to allow time for talks on long-promised reforms to guarantee free and fair parliamentary elections.

Originally due in February 2009, the vote was delayed once after the government agreed to carry out election reforms. But the opposition said such changes have yet to materialize and accused the ruling party of unilaterally restructuring the election committee.

"The majority party's single-handed adoption of amendments to electoral laws defeats political dialogue and the agreement to delay the February 2009 elections," Socialist Party leader Yassin Noman told reporters.

The amendment by parliament to the electoral law sparked an opposition sit-in on Sunday and claims that the ruling party has violated a 2009 accord providing for dialogue on political reforms.

Amendment passed

The amendment, which was originally proposed along with various other political reforms in 2009, was passed on Saturday by a parliament heavily dominated by members and allies of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC).

It stipulated that the high electoral commission be composed of judges rather than delegates from parties represented in parliament as has been the case until now.

The opposition said that by passing the amendment unilaterally, Saleh's allies had "put an end to the national dialogue" and had rejected "the desire of the majority of the population for serious reforms."

The mandate of the current parliament was extended by two years to April 2011 following a February 2009 agreement between the GPC and opposition parties to allow dialogue on political reforms.

Reforms that were to be discussed included a shift from a presidential regime to a proportional representation parliamentary system and further decentralization of government -- measures that have not been implemented.

The GPC has held power since President Saleh established it in 1982.

The opposition had called on the GPC to hold dialogue with southern secessionist groups that have been clashing with the government, and with northern Shiite insurgents, with whom the state is trying to cement a shaky truce.

Both the southern secessionists and the northern Shiite rebels complain of government discrimination against them.

Impoverished Yemen is also struggling to quell a resurgent al-Qaeda wing based in the country, which threatens to exploit instability in the Arabian Peninsula state.

The opposition on Monday passed out flyers that said its lawmakers would continue to protest against the election by holding a sit-in inside parliament chambers until the end of the month. It called on Yemenis to join in the protest.

But GPC deputy secretary general Sultan al-Burkan said he doubted the opposition had the ability to incite mass protests, and his party would not be influences by opposition demands.