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Qais Ghanem, MD Headshot

A Sham Referendum for a Sham Future

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On the 23rd of February, Abdu-Rabbo Mansoor Hadi, the acting president of Yemen, and former vice president will, without a doubt, be "elected" president of Yemen. That is according to the agreement sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in its effort to secure the signature of former president Saleh on that accord.

For many, getting rid of Saleh was worth any compromise, including the blanket immunity he and others in his regime, were given. Saleh, who secured the best deal of any Arab dictator, must have felt re-assured that he would leave the presidency to one of his own men, who has served him faithfully and meekly since 1994, when a secessionist southern movement was defeated in a civil war with the Northern central government.

Himself a southerner, Hadi was the ideal choice to be Saleh's number two, putatively deficient in charisma and ambition.

The terms of the agreement stipulate that Hadi would be president for only two years, at the end of which Yemenis would elect their own president according to the standard formula; from a slate of presidential candidates. Saleh is reported to be asking Yemeni institutions to remove his photographs from their wall and to substitute ones of Hadi! I have always thought that it would be fantastic if the menacing photos of all such unelected rulers were forever banished.

So, why is it necessary for Yemenis to go through this sham election, when it is nothing but a referendum for a man with no competitors? Former president Mubarak went through so many of these referendums, and was returned to power with the blessing, we were told, of 99% of Egyptian citizens. Furthermore, when President Kennedy was assassinated, Vice President Lyndon Johnson stepped smoothly into his shoes, without any referendum, because that is what a vice president is for.

My own opinion is that Hadi's role will be a lot longer than a two year term, and that is exactly what Saudi Arabia, and possibly the United States, wants to see happen, because the conservative devil you know is better than the progressive devil you don't know. Such a so-called election will give him the legitimacy he will need for a two-year term, and then allow him to seek the presidency for a full term of five or six years, at which time his chances of success will have been markedly boosted. By then, who knows what will happen? Will Iran still be there in its present state? Will Saudi oil production have significantly diminished, or at least peaked? Either way it will buy time for Yemen's neighbours.

Furthermore, this referendum is estimated to cost a minimum of $48 million, which which would be better spent on improving the collapsing infrastructure in the country, which is rumoured that, within a handful of years, will run out of water.

For citizens of the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, such a referendum would only help to legitimize what they see as the armed conquest, and plunder of their country, which was planned by the two undemocratic leaders of the two Yemens, without their approval, and against their wishes.

As always, one cannot discuss the problems of Yemen without addressing of other countries in the Middle East. In this instance, we must speak of Syria. Commentators have recently stated that the surge of wanton brutality of the Assad regime is a sign of desperation that should indicate the final chapter of the president's crumbling rule.

When that happens, the remote possibility of Saleh's return to Yemen will vanish. The other consequence will be that Bahrain will become the next trouble spot in the region, which will drag Saudi Arabia into the melee, since it was the KSA that sent its fleet of tanks to quell the peaceful protests of the Shia majority in Manamah.

The other Gulf Arab countries are less likely to be affected because of their smaller populations, but also because of a certain level of democracy enjoyed in Kuwait, the presence of a much more open society in Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, and the near absence of vocal discontent in these "benign and benevolent" dictatorships.

In Yemen, those who enthusiastically support the referendum on Hadi are those whose lot will improve with his presidency, or at least will not be threatened, or who will also gain legitimacy under the Hadi government, despite any crimes they have committed under his predecessor Saleh.

Among these will be members of the People's Congress Party who now hold cabinet posts in the so-called coalition government, and continue to represent Yemen locally and abroad. How can that situation be tenable, especially if the policies of Hadi were going to be different? But this is precisely why I do not believe that they will be different.

If these predictions prove to be accurate, then the problems of Yemen will not improve any time soon, but will continue, and may indeed end up in significant violence, especially if the legitimate aspirations of the inhabitants of Aden and the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY)
are not dealt with early and genuinely.

Dr. Ghanem's books are available in the UK, and in Canada .

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