President is 'fed up'
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
22 July 2005
In a move that is almost without precedent
in an Arab country, Yemen’s long-serving president, Ali
Abdullah Salih, has announced that he is ‘fed up’ and
plans to retire next year.
He surprised a gathering on July 16 -
called to celebrate the 27th anniversary of his rise to power
- by saying he will not contest the presidential election
scheduled for September next year.
"I hope that all political parties
find young leaders to compete in the elections because we have
to train ourselves in the practice of peaceful
succession," he said. "Our country is rich with
young blood who can lead the country ... let's transfer power
peacefully among ourselves, people are fed up with us, and we
are fed up with power."
The announcement came at the end of a
speech to politicians, diplomats, government officials and
tribal leaders in which he reviewed the problems and
achievements of his presidency, including the unification of
north and south Yemen, the introduction of a multi-party
system and the settling of all the country’s border
In times of difficulty in the past, the
president has talked of stepping down - usually in order to
rally supporters to his side - and some in the audience
dutifully responded with cries of "No, no, we want you,
we want you for ever," but the president insisted he was
serious this time.
Yemen should become a role model nd show
the world it is ‘a democratic country where peaceful passing
of power is done,’ he said.
Although his statement appeared to leave
no room for a subsequent change of heart, some in the Yemeni
opposition were sceptical.
"This is an early election campaign
by the president because there are no signs that he wants to
relinquish power. He still maintains a monopoly on
power," Ali al-Sarari, a member of the Socialist Party,
told the Associated Press news agency.
At 63, Salih is still relatively young by
the standards of Arab leaders, and the motives behind his
decision to step down are unclear.
The principle of limiting presidents to
two terms has long been established by Yemen’s constitution,
but occasional re-drafts of the constitution have kept
returning the counter to zero. This means that Salih could
legally seek a further seven-year term next year.
In Yemen’s first direct presidential
election, in 1999, Salih won a 96.3% majority against a
little-known opponent from his own party, the General
As in several Arab countries, there has
been frequent speculation that Salih is grooming his eldest
son, Ahmad, to succeed him. The constitution requires
presidential candidates to be at least 40 years old but Ahmad,
who is currently in charge of the Republican Guard and the
special forces, is still only about 35.