By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Monday, January 03, 2011
Yemen’s Parliament has agreed in principle to make constitutional amendments that could see President Ali Abdullah Saleh rule for life, and will hold a formal vote on the matter later this year.
Despite opposition protests and calls by the United States for a vote delay, some 170 members of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party voted over the weekend in favor of the constitutional amendments, an AFP journalist said.
Only two independent MPs who attended the meeting called for postponing the vote which sparked an opposition protest outside Parliament.
In line with the Constitution the amendments will be discussed in detail on March 1 and will then be submitted to a referendum to be held simultaneously with Parliamentary polls on April 27, a GPC member said.
The proposed constitutional amendments stipulate canceling the limit of two consecutive terms for which a president can be elected and reducing the presidential term from seven years to five.
If the ruling party-dominated Parliament passes the amendment, Saleh could become president for life of the Arabian Peninsula nation.
In reaction, Yemen’s opposition called for protests, in a statement received Sunday. The opposition Common Forum urged for “mobilizing the people’s struggle” and “instantly organizing protests … to mark the new year  as the year of peaceful struggle until achieving victory.”
“The regime has began producing corrupt and authoritarian policies outside the constitution and the law,” said the Common Forum, which groups Al-Islah (Reform) Party, the main Islamist opposition, the Yemeni Socialist Party and other smaller factions.
In power since 1978, Saleh was elected for the first time in 1999 by direct universal suffrage for a term of seven years. His second term, which began in 2006 expires in 2013.
The United States urged Yemen’s Parliament not to go ahead with any move to amend the constitution Friday.
“We continue to believe that the interests of the Yemeni people will be best served through … negotiations,” State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The US call appeared to be a bid to avert a collapse of political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition, which Washington sponsors as part of the Friends of Yemen group.
Saleh’s opponents accuse the 68-year-old of grooming his eldest son Ahmad, who heads the Republican Guard, an elite unit of the army, to succeed him.
The amendments “will result in a complete break between the north and south and will destroy any hope of partnership” Ali Acshal, a southern member of Al-Islah, warned after the vote.
“If the ruling party goes ahead with these amendments … it will cause disorder in the country,” Ali Abed Rabbo al-Qadi, who heads a bloc of five independent MPs, told the session.
But the head of GPC’s Parliamentary group Sultan al-Barakani said the party will go ahead with its reforms. – With AFP