Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Yemen

Period of democratic transition: 1992-1993
Pro-democracy civic movement: not present

Yemen's political transition began in May 1990, when North Yemen (the Yemen Arab Republic) and South Yemen (the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) unified to form a new republic. The unification in reality represented more of a absorption of the South by the North, as the latter, formerly a Soviet Style one party state, had been virtually bankrupted after Soviet backing dried up in the late 1980s. Upon their dissolution, parliaments from both countries elected a new governing council, headed by Colonel Ali Abdullah Saleh, formerly the leader of North Yemen, which had previously functioned as a military dictatorship with limited democratic participation.

A new constitution drafted by the governing counsel and ratified by 98.3 percent of the population provided for significant democratic reforms: political parties, which had previously been banned in both the North and South, were legalized, women were given full political rights, and multi-party elections were scheduled for 1992. In 1993, after a year of delays, Yemen elected 301 candidates to parliamentary seats in the first free elections held in North or South Yemen. The elections saw the General People's Congress (GPC), the former ruling party of the North, win a majority in parliament. The Yemeni Congregation for Reform (al-Islah) and the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the former ruling party of the south, also won a small number of seats.

The reform process stalled in 1994 when the YSP, disappointed with its poor election showing, boycotted the new government and tried to reestablish an independent South Yemen. This led to a 70-day civil war that ended with the exile of YSP leaders. Yemen's experiment with democracy continued after the war, though the YSP's boycott allowed the GPC to dominate political life. Saleh is still president, and holds broad powers under a constitution change ratified in 1994.

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