Observers who keep a close eye on Yemeni affairs have understood for a while that President 'Abdu Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the man touted by most of the international community as the "legitimate" head of the Yemeni state, does not enjoy the full confidence of his government-in-exile. His vice president/prime minister Khaled Bahah seems to command more respect and admiration, inside and outside Yemen, and the government--based between Aden, Riyadh, and Amman--has long been divided between the president and PM, according to knowledgeable sources. But while this intra-regime conflict has simmered behind closed doors, international officials and diplomats have, for the most part, maintained the fiction of the "legitimate" president's control over the "recognized" government of Yemen.* That facade took a few serious hits this week, as both the AFP and Reuters published articles acknowledging the Hadi-Bahah divide. The AFP's Tuesday piece deals with President Hadi's sudden replacement of several ministers and ambassadors. The crux of the maneuver, according to AFP, was Hadi's attempt to replace Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasin, whom Hadi plucked from obscurity to act (quite incompetently) as his chief diplomat back in late March, and whom Bahah has reportedly despised and refused to work with from day one. If Hadi hoped to repair the breach with his VP/PM by ditching Yasin, he seems to have failed: Reuters reported on Wednesday that Bahah had publicly "rejected" the reshuffle, because the president has no constitutional authority to appoint or dismiss cabinet members.
Also on Tuesday, Reuters put out a piece that was chock-full of quotes from anonymous Yemeni and foreign diplomats dumping on Hadi, and making it clear that no one in the international community is interested in propping up his presidency any longer than is absolutely necessary.
"Hadi has never been popular and it’s not in his interest that the war stop before complete victory. Diplomats know that Hadi is not a serious candidate, and a settlement means he’s out."
A second diplomat said there was now broad agreement that talks were the way forward because the war had reached a stalemate on the ground. But "a few dissenters" including in Hadi's camp were nonetheless holding out for a military victory.....
Western and regional officials have voiced support for Hadi's prime minister and vice president, Khaled Bahah, widely seen as a rival, who some describe as a more capable technocrat.
"The leadership between Bahah and Hadi is not in sync," the second diplomat said, offering praise for Bahah as a "healer" while describing Hadi as more self-interested.
Now, all of that has been conventional wisdom among full-time Yemen watchers for a while now. But when foreign diplomats start saying things like this to the press--especially going so far as to accuse an internationally-backed president of deliberately sabotaging peace talks--it's usually because they've been encouraged to leak by their superiors. While I doubt we'll see figures like John Kerry or UN special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed publicly disavowing Hadi, it would seem that the powers that legitimized his presidency are now getting ready to facilitate his exit. Stay tuned.
*Why all the quotation marks? Here's a quick summary of the precariousness of the Hadi-Bahah regime: Hadi was anointed as president of Yemen under the so-called GCC Initiative, an agreement signed by the ruling General Peoples' Congress coalition and the Joint Meeting Parties opposition bloc that eased long-time dictator 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh out of power. That agreement stipulated that Hadi would govern for a two-year transitional period, with the help of a power-sharing government split between the GPC and JMP. But Hadi stayed in office far past the two-year mark, with no legal basis. He also reshuffled the cabinet, something neither the constitution nor the GCC Initiative gave him authority to do. In late 2014, after the Houthis began their slow-motion coup with the help of former president Saleh, a new government of ostensibly non-partisan technocrats was formed, with Bahah as PM. But most of that government's ministers resigned in January-February 2015, and President Hadi, after fleeing from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, unilaterally appointed new officials to make up for those who didn't join him in exile. So, when foreign officials or media outlets describe Hadi and/or his government as "legitimate," just know that the term is being applied arbitrarily, and with no legal basis.