Sanaa, Yemen – Despite having managed to form a new government, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who presided over the swearing-in session on Sunday, appears to be facing his toughest challenge yet as he approaches a third year in office.
On Saturday, Hadi, the last of a group of leaders elected in the wake of the Arab Spring, was dismissed from his own party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), in response to a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and two members of the rebel Houthi movement. The three men are blamed for orchestrating Yemen’s current unrest.
GPC party officials told Al Jazeera the party was likely to push for a vote of no-confidence in Hadi in parliament, in which the GPC holds a majority.
Although parliament no longer has the authority to dismiss the president or delay the formation of a new government, criteria for the qualification of ministers, laid out in the September peace deal, give the GPC and the Houthis an opportunity to bring the new government down by making complaints that some of the new ministers should have been disqualified during the selection process.
The GPC, which led successive Yemeni governments from 1982 to 2011, has accused the president of working under “instruction from foreign powers”, particularly the US government, and of not serving the interests of Yemen as a whole.
The US-proposed sanctions, which will see Saleh and the two Houthi leaders slapped with an international asset freeze and travel ban, were aimed at preventing the former president from further slowing the transition initiated by his ouster in 2011. But they may have inadvertently dealt a final blow to Hadi’s troubled presidency and the process of political transition he was overseeing, due to end in a constitutional referendum and fresh round of elections in 2015 or 2016.
Hadi has advocated for sanctions against Saleh since last year. Recently, he accused the former president of playing a key role in September’s Houthi-led takeover of the capital Sanaa.
I think if he is going to play games and form a government against the peace agreement we can't guarantee the people of Yemen won't ask for the change of Hadi, not just government
In the wake of the UN statement, Saleh, who as chairman of the GPC is the highest-ranking official in Yemen’s historical ruling party, is now reportedly on a war footing with the man who succeeded him.
Despite the GPC’s statement that it would boycott the new cabinet, however, most of the ministers allied with Saleh were present at the swearing-in.
On Saturday, the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, said in a statement that they would not approve the new cabinet because several ministers did not meet the required standards. The group described the decision to impose sanctions against two Houthi military commanders as “provocative” and “unhelpful”.
The cabinet formation process was seen as a chance for Yemen’s new prime minister, Khaled Bahah, to prove that he was capable of building a broadly accepted technocratic government – and for Hadi to prove that he was still capable of ruling Yemen under the terms of the September peace deal. Bahah was appointed in mid-October after the Houthis and the GPC vetoed Hadi’s pick for the job, his chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak.
In the event, Bahah was only able to swear in 30 of the 36 members of his new cabinet on Sunday. Three ministers had declined the posts offered to them and another three were still deliberating whether or not they should accept it.
Ahmed al-Kohlani, Ahmed Luqman and Qabool al-Mutawakel, named respectively as the ministers of state, civil service and social affairs, each announced a day after their appointment that they would not join the new cabinet. Three more people appointed to key ministries, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said they were undecided on taking up the posts because they did not want to be tainted by association with a government which many in Yemen believe has been set up to fail.
Most Yemenis acknowledge that Saleh has been a thorn in Hadi’s side for much of his presidency and see the latest standoff as a continuation of an ongoing power struggle between Hadi, Saleh and the Houthis. But sympathy for the president, who for much of the first two years of his term enjoyed widespread domestic and international support, is running out.
Hadi has not developed the political skill required to outmanoeuvre his predecessor or the Houthis, often playing directly into their hands with ill thought-out decisions. Many in Sanaa were dismayed by the ease with which the Houthis entered Sanaa in September after Hadi reportedly refused to commit the military to a meaningful battle against the group.
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Many Yemenis believe Hadi’s presidency has only been sustained by backing from the international community, but some diplomats privately concede he may have become more of a liability than a stabilising force.
“The current crisis in Yemen demands strong, wise leadership, but as the situation continues to deteriorate, Hadi has yet to demonstrate that he’s able to deliver,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a specialist in Yemeni affairs.
But according to analysts, the standoff also shows that Saleh remains a key player in Yemeni politics, and that he is determined to show the international community he is politically relevant.
“I think if Hadi is going to play games and form a government against the peace agreement, we can’t guarantee the people of Yemen won’t ask for the change of the president, not just government,” said Hussein al-Bokhaiti, a pro-Houthi activist with close ties to the group’s leadership.
Ansar Allah’s official policy, explained Bokhaiti, is that they will not ask Hadi to step down. But, “I think we have come to a point where Hadi is not wanted any more,” added Bokhaiti, stressing that these were his personal views. “People on the street, on Facebook, are asking him to go.”