Monitoring the Parliament at Times of War

Since the military intervention of the Saudi coalition in Yemen in March 2015, the Yemeni parliament has been inactive and has not been able to play a constructive role in ending the political stalemate in Yemen. In view of the ongoing violence in various parts of the country, exacerbating a dire humanitarian crisis, parliament is divided between those supporting the intervention and those siding with the Houthi movement and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Many members of parliament have left the country.

As a consequence, the relationship between the Yemen Parliament Watch (YPW), the parliament and media has deteriorated. But despite this, the lack of electricity and the continuous bombardment by the Saudi coalition, the watch dog organization continues to monitor the crisis closely from its office in Sanaa.

The Becoming of a Watch Dog Organization

The YPW is the only oversight project on the parliament of Yemen. Being one of the projects run by Yemen Polling Center (YPC), YPW was launched in 2009 with assistance from the European Union. At the time, parliamentary elections were supposed to be held, but were postponed due to a conflict between the party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and the opposition. The elections were postponed a second time in 2011 due to the country-wide protests that demanded the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The delay in electing representatives since 2003, rendered the legitimacy of parliament highly questionable.

While frequently insisting on the importance of elections, the YPW aimed to create a channel of communication between members of parliament and their constituents by making information about parliamentary debates and other activities available to the public. With its media coverage that involves daily news stories and reports, the YPW has become a reliable source of information pertaining to parliamentary debates.

Because of this standing, the YPW was well placed to assist the parliament in enhancing its role during the transitional period. After the singing of the GCC Initiative in November 2011, former President Saleh was forced to step down. The GCC agreement outlined a transitional roadmap for a peaceful transfer of power and tasked the parliament to pass laws that were necessary for the initiative’s smooth implementation.

Funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the YPW focused in this period on raising public awareness about the parliament’s functions and engaging the Yemeni community, specifically youth and journalists, in overseeing the representatives’ performance.

While the parliament was always an important theater for political parties to carry out conflicts, the house has always had only a marginal political and legal role. In the transitional period, the parliament was further marginalized, leaving it completely inactive since March 2015.

Inactive Parliament in View of War

After the violent takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, the militia group announced the “Constitutional Declaration” on February 3, 2015. While representing a de facto coup against the government, the declaration relieved the parliament of all its constitutional duties. On top of that, members of parliament were abducted by the Houthis, while others had their homes raided or destroyed.

On March 26, 2015, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab states, launched a military intervention in Yemen with the aim of restricting the increasing Houthi influence over Yemeni provinces and reinstating transitional President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi as the legitimate president in the capital. Since then, violence, killing and devastation have been prevailing in the country.

The Yemeni population has been divided into supporters or opponents of the military intervention in Yemen. The division has also affected the positions of representatives: The GPC block remained on the side of Ali Abdullah Saleh allied with the Houthis, while representatives of other political parties that are opposed to the Houthis and former President Saleh fled the country.

Nevertheless, self-funded, the YPW now continues to monitor and analyze the parliament’s performance and makes all relevant information available to the public despite the dramatic events in Yemen that have impacted the performance and efficacy of the parliament.

Difficult Times for Civil Society

Sanaa has not had electricity for seven months. Private households and civil society organizations are now relying on solar energy and fuel-run generators. After an imposed sea blockade leaving the country without fuel, medicine and other goods for months, prices have increased dramatically. This coupled with daily air strikes, provides for a very difficult environment for civil society organizations to be active.

Nevertheless, for Yemeni civil society, life goes on. Not willing to give up hope in the face of increasing violence and hatred, the Yemen Polling Center along with its Yemen Parliament Watch project continues to monitor the crisis, motivated by its conviction that state institutions, particularly parliament, will have to play a constructive role in the future to rebuild the country.