Cabinet shake-up disappoints Yemen's traditional parties

Cabinet shake-up disappoints Yemen's traditional parties
Houthis and secessionists win key ministerial roles as pragmatic redistribution of power reflects new political realities.
5 min read
23 October, 2014

The Houthi movement, officially known as Ansarallah, and the southern secessionist Herak movement will occupy leading positions in Yemen's reshuffled government, it has emerged. Their promotion comes at the expense of the long-established political forces in Yemen who signed the 2011 GCC initiative which led to the removal of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"The almost final division of the cabinet portfolios includes nine for the General People's Congress and their allies, and the same number for the Joint Meeting Parties, as well as six each for the Houthis and the Herak," a source close to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi told al-Araby al-Jadeed. "The four most important ministers will be chosen by Hadi."

According to this proposal, women and younger politicians will not have a special quota set aside for them as expected. Instead, some blocs in the government will be expected to nominate youth and women for the ministerial positions allocated to them.

This all makes a marked change from the previous "Unity" government, which took office in late 2011, and was made up of 17 seats each for the GPC and the JMP. Now, the "Peace and Partnership" agreement, signed on September 21 as the Houthis took over Sanaa, has added the new conquerors and Herak to that list, reflecting the new political playing field in the country.

Hadi's choices

The Peace and Partnership agreement stipulates that Hadi will personally choose the ministers occupying the four most important portfolios: defence, interior, finance, and foreign affairs. In the situation Yemen finds itself, with security taking priority over economic growth, real power lies with the group in control of the most important ministries: defence and interior.

The Houthis, being in a position of power in Sanaa, will most likely have the final say in approving Hadi's choices for the top job.

     With security taking priority over economic growth, real power lies with the group in control of the most important ministries: defence and interior.

Hadi has played a wily game himself, in that the six Herak seats in cabinet will be largely under his direct control. The Herak faction that has agreed to take part in the political game in Sanaa is close to the president, and not the majority faction that rejects participation in government. So Hadi has his four ministries, plus the Herak six – and would appoint replacements for any ministers should they resign or be removed, as is his right.

The GPC not the biggest losers

The GPC, the former ruling party headed by Saleh, continues to hold the premier position in government. The JMP, meanwhile, will have to divide its nine seats between its six coalition parties, as well as their allies.

Despite dividing the seats in the previous government equally, the GPC continue to dominate parliament, with more than two thirds of parliamentary seats in their name. The parliament, whose term was supposed to end in 2009, continues to meet.

The GPC has lost eight ministries, including defence and foreign affairs, compared with the previous incarnation of government. It will be worth watching how differently Saleh is likely to treat his former protege, and how Hadi will deal with his ousted former boss.

Houthis and Herak

The fruit of three years of "transition", as marked by back-door political deals iunstead of electoral participation, is the prominence of armed groups, such as the Houthis, and populist groups, such as Herak, at the expense of mainstream political parties.

Put together, the Houthis and Herak will have 12 seats in cabinet, a third of the ministries. This is in addition to the smaller parties within the JMP coalition - Haqq and the Baathists - that are allied to the Houthis and Herak.

Practically, Yemen's new government will likely be regarded as the government of the Houthis. They were the ones who brought down Muhammad Salem Basindwa’s government in September, and they are the ones operating armed checkpoints throughout the capital. It is expected that their influence will not just be felt in their own ministries, but in others too, and it is not likely that any minister will be appointed should he or she not meet the approval of the Houthis.

Many analysts are of the opinion that giving the pro-Hadi wing of Herak seats in government will not calm the streets of southern Yemen, where the mood is one of secession.

For their part, the Houthis occupy the dual role of participating in government on one hand, and taking over cities and army bases by force on the other. They will have the ability to push through their political decisions with the backing of their firepower.

     [The Houthis] will have the ability to push through their political decisions with the backing of their firepower.

JMP come off the worst

The JMP should not be regarded as one entity, as it is comprises a coalition of parties that have quite different goals. The JMP is made up of the Islamist Islah Party, the Socialist Party, the Nasserist Party, the Haqq Party, the Popular Forces Party, and the Nationalist Baath Party - as well as the Unionists as official allies. When the seats are divvied up between the parties, the new Yemeni political order will become clear, as the Islah Party, Yemen's second largest party after the GPC, will only be allocated three ministries.

In the former government, Islah had six ministries. Now they come in fifth, behind the GPC, Hadi's quota, Herak and the Houthis. This is a massive retreat, especially when taken in light of the role that Islah played in the 2011 revolution that swept aside Saleh, and their large support base.

The JMP had indicated, in a letter sent to Hadi on Tuesday, that they would pull out of the new government, unless the ministerial portfolios were made more even. The JMP problem is not so much the number of positions on offer, but that it looks like they will lose many important ministries, including interior, finance, information, education, justice, and human rights.

The division of ministerial portfolios shows that Hadi wants to help some powers ascend, while causing serious blows to others. The Houthis have been given the opportunity to consolidate their power, after a series of tough battles in Ibb and al-Baydha, where they have tried to expand. The picture is still not yet complete – and will only be so when the final announcement of the ministerial positions is made.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.