The new enigma: who will be the next Vice President?

Fernando Carvajal looks at the possible picks for President Hadi's deputy:

Does Yemen’s President, 'Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, need a strong or weak vice president? This may not be the only question we have to deal with, for we would also ask if the new Deputy should be close to Saleh’s family in order to maintain party cohesion or someone close to those who dissented after the March 18 massacre?

Article 105(B) of the Yemeni Constitution stipulates “The President shall have a Vice President” (http://www.al-bab.com/yemen/gov/con94.htm), making it an obligation to appoint a Deputy, even during the transition period. The final version of the GCC initiative does not at all address this matter, but as understood by insiders, what ever is prescribed by the Initiative stands above the constitution, and what ever is not directly specified in the GCC document falls within the constitutional text. Rumors that President Hadi would neglect Article 105 (B) and decide not to appoint a Deputy for the duration of the two year transition period have been laid to rest as new rumors of potential candidates for the post surfaced.

With this is mind we can then move to address the question at hand. President 'Abd Rabbuh will need a Deputy that strengthens his primary goals, which remain obscure. Analysts can spend hours trying to decipher priorities of the new government, but as we have learned in the past, what we believe to be a priority may not even be on the radar. We can speculate on whether further cooperation with the US government is a priority, hence the strong statement during Hadi’s swearing-in speech on February 25 against al-Qaeda in the presence of the US Ambassador. Or may be it was to send a message to the new Saudi Crown Prince, knowing that the Kingdom will remain Yemen’s primary ally and provider of financial assistance. His priority may be to consolidate power in order to strengthen his position at the start of the National Dialogue process. We can go on and on speculating and still end up flat wrong at the end. But if we look into the potential names of candidates we may gain further insight once the individual is chosen and takes up his post beside President 'Abd Rabbuh.

The rumor over who would be the next Vice President began with two names, Abdul Qader Hilal (former governor of Hadhramawt and son-in-law of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh) and Ali Muhammed Mujawar (originally from Shebwa and former Prime Minister). The latter has most likely been instantly dismissed since it has been agreed that the next deputy must be a northerner, and more specific, of tribal origin and not just from Ibb or Taiz. Mujawar would be the third top official of southern origin and it would be nearly unacceptable to have the executive branch fully composed of southerners. Mr. Hilal is not only a relative of Saleh but he is also from Senhan, which would indicate President Hadi would aim at deterring any potential threats from Senhanis who face the end of over 30 years of political and military domination. His appointment would also strengthen Saleh’s family position in the transition period and prevent their marginalization in the period leading to the next parliamentary elections, presidential election and most importantly restructuring of the armed forces.

Reaction to this initial rumor naturally led to people countering by injecting Dr. Abdul Karem al-Iryani’s (former prime Minister and primary political advisor to Ali Abdullah Saleh) name along with Hilal’s. Yemenis saw this as a natural balance to rumors of Hilal as the front runner. Dr. Iryani has made no public comment on the issue, and it would be difficult to imagine that such an experienced politician would allow others to use his name in a game of ponds, but it would also be difficult to imagine him saying no to President Hadi if personally offered the post. There is also the matter of Dr. Iryani’s persona. There is no other Yemeni politician with the degree of respect and confidence internationally as well as within the region of the Arabian Peninsula. He would represent a high value asset for Hadi with regards to the necessary confidence required to secure international assistance during the transition period, whether financial or technical.

Yet, if we were to be logical in our analysis (if!) then most would agree that Dr. Iryani would be a greater asset for president Hadi within the General People’s Congress (GPC). Iryani has also served as deputy Secretary General of the GPC, under 'Abd Rabbuh, for a long time, and as co-chair of the Dialogue committee, also with 'Abd Rabbuh, no one else knows the process and the actors like him. Dr. Iryani will remain a major asset for the president within the party, and this would allow him to multi-task and multiply his contributions to Hadi’s priorities. As Hadi’s Deputy his role may be limited vis-à-vis the party and the opposition, whether it’s Islah or Houthis or the Southern Movement. Again, how do we identify the president’s priorities?

Some insiders go beyond the suggestion that the next Deputy should be a northerner. Some have even suggested it would be a smart move for Hadi to appoint a Zaydi northerner, not so much a Houthi or a sayyid, but a Zaydi tribesman. Along this line some also suggested Rashad al-Ailami (former Minister of Interior and highly trusted security official) and Yahya al-Ra’i (current speaker of Parliament). Both were injured during the attempted assassination of President Saleh on June 3, 2011. Neither would fit the criteria proposed but they represent ties to Saleh’s family as well as people of confidence within the security establishment.

The last name suggested by few people is Qaleb Mutahar al-Qamish (current head of PSO and former Minister of Interior, also of Hashid origin). Mr. Qaleb represents the most interesting candidate. A northern tribesman of Zaydi origin and highly trusted across the GPC establishment. In addition, he represents the future of the security establishment. Rumor has it the intelligence agencies will merge under a new agency. This new structure may serve to ease the way out of Saleh’s relatives as well as serve as confidence building measures for relations with the West and Saudi Arabia. He would be a strong asset for Hadi but problematic vis-à-vis the revolutionary youth and activists. Islah itself might not have a problem with Mr. Qaleb, but grassroots activists and other opposition parties will look at this nomination as intensifying the image of a police state.

It is still unlikely that President Hadi will appoint a Deputy on Monday during the farewell ceremony for 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh, but it would be a priority if he wishes to deter further criticism over the lack of constitutional legitimacy for the transition process. We must keep in mind that pressure on Hadi doesn’t only come from protesters in San'a and Ta'iz, who will use Syria’s situation in order to sustain numbers every Friday, but pressure also comes from regional neighbors needed increased stability and Western governments who have invested a lot in the transition process as a potential model for other Arab states confronting the Arab Spring tsunami. If the rumor is correct that the option to pass on a Deputy was considered then we imagine the nomination of a non-threatening personality, who does not represent and asset to Hadi either but merely serves a ceremonial post for the duration of the transition period. This person may not even contribute to the constitutional reform process and therefore not have any ambitions to be in office after the coming parliament elections.