The Yemeni Parliament [official website, in Arabic] on Saturday agreed in principle to adopt a constitutional amendment that will abolish presidential term limits. Currently, the Yemeni constitution [text, PDF] permits the president to sit for a maximum of two consecutive seven-year terms, but the draft amendment would shorten the term length to five years and eliminate the two-term cap. The measure was adopted with 170 votes by a parliament dominated by the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) [party website] of President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website]. In an interview with al-Saeeda TV last week, Sultan al-Barakani, head of the GPC's parliamentary bloc, said that the party's aim in adopting the measure is to make Saleh president for life [News Yemen report]. Saleh was elected for the first time in 1999 and began his second term in 2006. On Sunday, the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) [NationMaster backgrounder], the GPC's primary opposition, joined with a coalition of minority parties and independents in the Yemeni parliament in accusing the GPC of undermining the republic's democratic rule and called for protests [AFP report] opposing the amendments. In anticipation of the vote Friday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement [text] "urgently calling on all parties to delay parliamentary action and to return to the negotiating table" before adopting any such amendments. The GPC rebuffed [Azer-News report] the statement Saturday as undue interference in the nation's affairs. The Yemeni Parliament is expected to hear more detailed debate on the amendments in March before putting the matter to a referendum along with parliamentary voting on April 27.
The popular Saleh, who has been in power in Yemen since 1978, has generally been considered friendly to the US and an ally in the war on terror, but his GPC's efforts to amend the Yemeni constitution in recent years have caused mounting political tensions in the Arabian Peninsula's only republic. In December, the parliament stoked outrage among opposition parties and independents when it amended the constitution [AFP report] to eliminate provisions requiring that opposition parties be represented on the high election commission. That amendment was part of a package of measures, along with Saturday's abolition of term limits, that was originally proposed in 2009 after the GPC and YSP agreed in an EU-brokered deal to delay elections until the electoral process could be reformed. In 2008, the Yemeni parliament failed to adopt a bill [JURIST report] that would have restricted government officials from influencing parliamentary ballots. The GPC majority voted as a bloc against the bill, while the YSP, eight senior members of which were being tried on corruption charges at the time, boycotted the vote.