Yemeni members of parliament who have been under house arrest in Saudi Arabia since 2015 were returned to Yemen on a private Saudi plane to take part in a new Saudi-brokered Yemeni parliament.
HADRAMOUT, YEMEN — Three months ago, MintPress News unveiled Saudi plans to hijack Yemen’s parliament. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia successfully carried out the plan when it forced members of Yemen’s House of Representatives to hold a council session in the eastern city of Sayun in Yemen’s Hadramout governorate.
Yemeni members of parliament who have been under house arrest in Saudi Arabia since 2015 were returned to Yemen on a private Saudi plane and received by Saudi officials at the Al-Rayyan airport in eastern Yemen. Local Yemeni media was barred from covering their arrival and Saudi state-run Al-Arabiya was the sole media outlet allowed to cover the event. It was held under heavy security with Saudi troops on patrol and was attended by ousted former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and ambassadors from countries backing Saudi plans in Yemen.
More than 100 lawmakers attended the parliamentary session in Sayun city. Sultan al-Borkani, a tribal Sheikh from late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC), was elected to be the new speaker of the Saudi-backed parliament, replacing the current, legitimately elected speaker, Yahya al-Ra’I, who is still presiding over the council’s sessions in Sana’a. The parliamentary session was aimed at giving the Saudi-led Coalition legal cover for its occupation of the country.
Saudis still cannot form quorum for business
Despite sizable Saudi efforts, less than half of the parliament’s MPs were not present at the Sayun session, leaving the session short of the number of MPs needed to achieve quorum. The Assembly of Representatives has a total of 301 members.
The parliamentary session was originally slated to be held in Aden but was moved to Sayun after a group of separatists allied with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in southern Yemen prevented parliament from convening in the city. According to politicians in southern Yemen, the Saudi move to form a new parallel parliament is a threat to local efforts in southern Yemen to form an independent state.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also obtained guarantees from allied Yemeni MPs to approve bilateral agreements between the ousted former president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and coalition countries. The guarantees include the leasing of Yemeni islands, including Socotra, to the UAE, as well as a promise that Yemen will agree to incur public debt in order to reimburse the Coalition for its war on the country.
Much of the controversy surrounding the Sayun parliamentary session revolves around the constitutionality of holding it outside of Sana’a, as Yemen’s constitution provides that the headquarters of the House of Representatives is Yemen’s capital Sana’a, and prescribes rules for the circumstances in which the Council may hold meetings outside the capital.
Specifically, Article 5 of the Yemeni constitution states:
The seat of the House of Representatives is the capital of Sana’a, and the Council may not hold its meetings outside the capital except for compelling circumstances where it is impossible to convene the Council in the capital.”
In January 2017, Saudi Arabia announced it would relocate Yemen’s parliamentary headquarters from Sana’a to the Coalition-controlled city of Aden. Aden was announced the interim capital of Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition in 2015 after the war began.
Yemen’s parliament rejects new Saudi-run replacement
Under the pretext of providing security for the Sayun parliamentary session, Saudi Arabia inundated Yemen’s Hadramout province with hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, Apache aircraft, and air defense systems — including Patriot missile batteries — as well as thousands of ground troops. The massive military presence allows Saudi Arabia de facto control over the substantial oil reserves in Hadramout, which is one of the most oil-rich provinces in Yemen.
Yemen’s long-standing parliament based in Houthi-controlled Sana’a rejected the Saudi-run parliamentary session in Sayun, calling it an effort to legitimize Coalition crimes and a violation of Yemen’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.
It added that Yemen’s parliament and its lawmakers in Sana’a are the sole representatives of the Yemeni people according to the Yemeni constitution and that the parliamentary session held at Sayun is a violation of the law and the constitution. The parliament, which still convenes daily in Sana’a, derives its legitimacy from Yemen’s constitution, which does not give the president the right to hold parliamentary sessions outside of Sana’a.
Houthi officials have also rejected the session in Sayun. Hussein al-Azi, Houthi deputy minister of foreign affairs, said that “those who were brought by the Saudi ambassador to support the siege of the people and the occupation of Yemen do not represent Yemenis at all.” He added, “the people are the source of legitimacy, and we recognize only the steadfast deputies with their homeland and their people.”
The Houthis have floated measures to counter the Saudi takeover of Yemen’s parliament, as revealed by MintPress in January, including running candidates in parliamentary elections to fill the 24 seats left vacant after the MP’s who held them died, a move in line with Yemen’s constitution. On Saturday, legislative elections were held in 453 electoral centers distributed across 24 constituencies in the capital and in the governorates of Taiz, Hodeida, Ibb, Baidah, Dhamar, Amran, Hajjah, Sa’adah, and al-Mahweet. The participation rate was 52 percent, according to the Committee for Elections and Referenda.
The current assembly was first elected in 2003, but its mandate was extended several times owing to election delays caused by instability in the country. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Bin Habtour, based in Sana’a, said:
This is the first time since 2003 voters will elect who will represent them constitutionally and legally.”
Yemen’s parliament is now split between MPs opposed to the Coalition, those that support it, and neutral members. The current legislative elections, however, could be a major political setback to the Coalition, which stands to lose a lot of ground, as the parliament could deal a blow to domestic Yemeni support for the Saudi Coalition in Yemen.
Top photo | Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi waits to address the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 26, 2018. Richard Drew | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.