Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary. Tribes in rural areas operate unauthorized “private” prisons and detention centers based on traditional tribal justice. Tribal leaders sometimes place “problem” tribesmen in private jails, sometimes simply rooms in a sheikh’s house, to punish them for noncriminal actions. Tribal authorities often detained persons for personal or tribal reasons without trial or judicial sentencing.
Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was reelected to a seven-year term in a problem-filled 2006 election, was pressed to sign an agreement in November 2011 assigning effective power to his deputy, following nationwide protests, unrest, and violence. Saleh formally stepped down on 21 February 2012, when former vice president Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, running as the sole candidate, was elected president in a vote generally considered to be free and fair. This marked the first change in the country’s leadership structure in more than 33 years and set in motion a two-year transition period.
The transitional government sought to expand political participation to formerly excluded groups, including women, youth, and minorities. Progress ended when Ansar Allah forces, a movement of Houthi rebels backed by former president Saleh, staged an armed takeover against the government in 2014, precipitating its exile. Houthi rebel actors exerted significant control and influence over government institutions, including the security forces; the government-in-exile exercised limited control over some security forces.
On 22 January 2015, forces affiliated with the Houthi-led Ansar Allah, a movement backed by former president Ali Abdallah Saleh, seized the presidential palace and other government buildings in Sana’a, leading Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his cabinet to resign, while the Houthis placed President Hadi under house arrest. On February 6, the movement illegally disbanded parliament and attempted to establish the Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing authority. On March 24, President Hadi requested Arab League/ GCC military intervention, invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter; the president fled the country the following day. In response to this request, on March 26, Saudi officials announced the formation of a coalition to counter the Houthi rebellion, with membership including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, and Senegal. The Saudi-led coalition conducted air and ground operations throughout the remainder of the year.
In March 2014 political parties acting within the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) endorsed that extension, and President Hadi remained the legitimate holder of the office. In September 2014 the Peace and National Partnership Agreement was signed 13 parties, temporarily ending the violence associated with the Houthi entrance into Sana’a and calling for implementation of the NDC outcomes, including elections and a new constitution.
In January 2015 the Constitutional Drafting Committee prepared a new draft constitution for review by the national body designated for that purpose under the GCC-I. On January 17, a government representative was in the process of delivering the draft constitution to that national body when Houthi forces kidnapped him.
On 06 February 2015, Houthi rebels declared the constitution null and void, illegally disbanded parliament, and announced the formation of the appointive Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing body. A government initiative to update voter rolls remained suspended.
A UN Security Resolution from April 2015 reiterated President Hadi's legitimacy, imposed an arms embargo on the rebels, and demanded they withdraw from all captured areas and turn in all seized arms. Peace talks led by the UN special envoy for Yemen began in December 2015.
The government-in-exile exercised limited control over military and security forces due to Houthi rebel influence. Competing family, tribal, party, and sectarian influences also affected the government-in-exile’s ability to control military and other security forces. During the year military and other security forces loyal to the government-in-exile battled with Houthi-Saleh forces.
President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi arrived in the southern port city of Aden 22 September 2015, following a six-month exile. Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in March as Shi'ite Houthi rebels closed in on his refuge in Aden. Yemen's Cabinet returned to the country after spending months in exile in Saudi Arabia. The Cabinet was working out of Aden with a goal of restoring stability to the country.
Yemen is a republic with a bicameral legislature. Under the constitution, an elected president, an elected 301-seat House of Representatives, and an appointed 111-member Shura Council share power. The president is head of state, and the prime minister is head of government. The constitution provides that the president be elected by popular vote from at least two candidates endorsed by Parliament; the prime minister is appointed by the president. The presidential term of office is 7 years, and the parliamentary term of elected office is 6 years. Suffrage is universal over 18.
In the April 2003 parliamentary elections, the General People's Congress (GPC) maintained an absolute majority. International observers judged elections to be generally free and fair, and there was a marked decrease from previous years in election-related violence; however, there were some problems with underage voting, confiscation of ballot boxes, voter intimidation, and election-related violence. The next parliamentary elections were scheduled for 2009. In the September 2006 local council elections, the GPC won a majority of seats on local and provincial councils. International observers judged the elections to be generally open and competitive, with another marked decrease in election-related violence. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was also re-elected to a second term in 2006. The next presidential elections were subsequently scheduled for 2013. Following mass protests and violence in 2011, President Saleh resigned the presidency and a presidential election was held in February 2012 as part of a plan sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
President Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) and the Islah opposition party both drew on Islam as a basis for law in their platforms. The ruling GPC did not exclude members of any religion from its membership. Islah required that a member must be "committed" to Islamic teachings. There were other minor political parties that were said to be Islamic in nature, although it was not clear if they restricted their membership to Muslims.
The country's constitution called for an independent judiciary. The former northern and southern legal codes had been unified. The legal system includeds separate commercial courts and a Supreme Court based in Sanaa. Fundamental judicial reform was important to reduce corruption and improve the country's investment climate. Increased transparency, integrity and accountability in the judiciary would increase local and international investment in the private sector and thus contribute to the economic growth Yemen so desperately needed. Police were widely viewed by Yemenis as among the most corrupt state agencies in Yemen, and anger at the actions of the security services contributed to he crisis in 2011. Historically, the lack of judicial independence from the executive branch was the key factor limiting the judiciary's ability to rein in major corruption. A US anticorruption assessment team found that the sentiment toward reform was more widely shared beyond a certain strata of high-ranking judges who were relatively isolated and lacked the power to push for change. The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), as reconfigured under new leadership and no longer presided over by President Saleh, appeared supportive of more far-reaching change.
Parliament had considerable potential, but had a long way to go in exercising its general transparency and accountability roles as the legislative branch of government. Embedded in these larger roles are Parliament's more specific contributions to anti-corruption in Yemen. In particular, given the efforts of some committees, oversight was perhaps the most promising function related to anticorruption. There was a tendency in much donor parliamentary-strengthening work to focus on a Parliament's budget review capacity and infrastructure. This was inspired both by the (correct) assumption that the ultimate source of corruption and approach for anti-corruption was financial and by the US Congressional model, where the legislature was the source of the budget. In Yemen, however, the legislature had limited constitutional budget authority and limited political influence. Recommendations were made concerning means to reform the budgeting process, to build parliamentary capacity both as an institution and in terms of individual members of Parliament (MPs) and to undertake specified administrative reforms.
The electoral system was set up to serve the existent system of power in Yemen as it rewards local tribal shaykhs, regional notables, and other parochial interests. Unqualified and often illiterate candidates would get elected to Parliament from rural areas on the say-so of a minor shaykh, sent to Sana'a to obtain patronage resources. Rent-seeking behavior by parliamentarians was not unique to Yemen, but the emphasis of localism was more pronounced there. Perhaps one-third of Yemen's members of Parliament (MPs) prior to 2011 were fully or functionally illiterate. The hyper-parochialism of Yemen's electoral system not only elected far too many MPs who were not able to fully gauge national issues and interests, but also promoted and reified local identities at the expense of a Yemeni national identity. Yemen did have a literacy requirement for MP candidates, but it was not enforced.
The Civil Service Ministry, the ministry that managed employee affairs for most government agencies, was particularly prone to administrative corruption based on employment. A recent finding by this ministry found that up to 30,000 of its employees (out of 473,000) were 'ghost workers' who never showed up for work, or 'double dippers' who were on more than one payroll. With the assistance of the World Bank, the civil service undertook the Civil Service Modernization Program. Included in this project were a new management information system (MIS), biometric identifications to prevent ghost workers and double dippers, payroll reform, and a program of early retirement as a cost savings measure. Recommendations were made regarding capacity building, implementation of performance-based reviews and rationalization of the evaluation and promotion systems in the civil service.
The technocratic elite was not a cohesive social force, but as a group commanded the technical expertise necessary for running a state and economy in the 21st century. Individual technocrats that ran afoul could easily be replaced, but the technocratic class could not be. Thus, technocrats in Yemen often enjoyed a good quality of life and partook of certain forms of state patronage as long as their political involvement remains relatively limited. The technocratic elite were entirely urban and increasingly based in Sana'a and a handful of other cities. Informal networks appeared to link the technocratic elite, but not in a cohesive or systematic manner. Upper management positions in government ministries were a common destination for college educated Yemenis, particularly those educated in the West. Most of the newly appointed reform-oriented ministers came out of the technocratic elite. The technocratic elite had greater political power prior to the 1970s and the tribal takeover of the Yemeni state. The 1962 republican revolution helped empower these technocrats, and after the first civil war wound down, this elite spent most of the 1970s making significant progress in modernizing North Yemen. In the PDRY, a much smaller technocratic elite continued to play a key role in the governing structure all the way up to unification in 1990.
Although there have been some positive developments, the Yemeni government’s ability to provide basic services remains limited. According to a 2012 Yemeni government report, there were acute weaknesses in the level of basic services available to Yemenis even prior to the political unrest in 2011, with only 42 percent of the population receiving electricity, 35 percent receiving security and legal services, 26 percent receiving water supplies, and 16 percent receiving sanitation services.
The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was originally scheduled to begin mid-November 2012. Preparations for the dialogue have been underway since mid-2012, when the president tasked a 25-person “preparatory committee” with deciding the structure of the conference. The committee membership spanned three generations and was made up of representatives from nearly all major interest groups in Yemen. Participants say they are fully aware of the magnitude of their work.
Yemeni political factions were to meet on 18 March 2013 to start drafting a new constitution and agree other reforms in a bid to end months of turmoil and pave the way for elections. The talks were promised under a Gulf-brokered deal that averted civil war in 2011 and prised President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's predecessor from power - but wrangling had delayed the announcement of a start date.
Among those issues were calls for independence by southern Yemen, an ongoing uprising in the north waged by the large al-Houthi tribe, the need for strengthened federal governance in a country dominated by traditional tribes, and a voice for women and youth who were big factors in the Arab Spring protests that helped topple the Saleh regime. The constitutional talks are being held at Sana’a’s Movenpick hotel and security around the complex is tight. Yemen is a nation where it’s not unusual to see civilian men carrying submachine guns in public. But all those taking part in the talks must check their weapons with the military before entering the Movenpick area.
Despite the desire for a new constitution, not all of Yemen’s major players are taking part in the conference. Among those staying away were Tawakkol Karman, whose charismatic voice for political reform earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and Ali Salim al-Beidh, a former president of South Yemen. Beidh was Saleh’s vice president during Yemen’s short north-south unification. He now leads the Hirak movement and is pressing for South Yemen’s independence, a demand that analysts say is a major issue in the constitutional talks.
One of the shortcomings of the National Dialogue is that it is seen largely as something that the international community - both the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) as well as the U.S. and the U.N. - really pushed on Yemen. The plan is that Yemen will hold new elections sometime in 2014 – if the National Dialogue talks can come up with a new constitution.
A presidential panel 10 February 2014 agreed to transform Yemen into a six-region federation as part of its political transition. The final approval" on creating a "federal state of six regions" came at a meeting of the committee, headed by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and including representatives of Yemen's main parties. Hadi formed the committee in late January at the end of a "national dialogue" to decide on the number of regions, and to insert it into the text of a new constitution, to be drafted and voted on within a year. Yemen's parties had been divided on whether to split the future federation into two or six regions. Sanaa feared that a straight north-south divide could set the stage for the disgruntled south to secede.
The six agreed regions include four in the north, comprising Azal, Saba, Janad and Tahama, and two in the south, Aden and Hadramawt. Azal would include the capital Sanaa, in addition to the provinces of Dhamar, Amran and Saada, a stronghold of Shiite rebels, while Aden would comprise the capital of the former south, as well as Abyan, Lahej and Daleh. The southeastern Hadramawt province would include Al-Mahra, Shebwa and the island of Socotra, while Saba comprises Bayda, Marib, Al-Jawf and Dhamar. Janad would include Taez and Ibb, and Tahama also takes in Hudaydah, Rima, Mahwit and Hajja. The decentralisation of power aims to meet the southerners' demands for autonomy.
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