Tik Root | Foreign Policy
Facing perhaps its biggest crisis yet, Yemen's ruling party of over three decades, the General People's Congress (GPC), is in desperate need of reform. As one of the only ruling parties to have survived a widespread Arab Spring uprising, it is now navigating uncharted territory. While the party and its leader, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are doing infinitely better than their imprisoned, exiled, dead, or dismantled counterparts across the Middle East and North Africa, the party's continued relevance and prosperity is by no means guaranteed, a reality to which it is struggling to adjust.
Formed in 1982 by Saleh, then president of the northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), the GPC was created to counter the rise of dissident leftist groups, like the National Democratic Front. Over time, the GPC grew into the country's dominant political force, winning the most seats in the first national elections held after the unification of the YAR and the southern People's Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1990. In the last parliamentary elections held in Yemen, in 2003, the party won 76 percent of seats. But, by the time the Arab Spring broke out the GPC was more a collection of powerful elites living off access to government coffers than a political party in the democratic sense of the term. Hardly bound to public opinion, the GPC ruled with relative impunity and only occasional resistance from the country's pseudo opposition coalition (the Joint Meeting Parties, or JMP). In hindsight, it is not surprising that the party became a primary target of revolutionaries.
Yemen's popular uprising that began in January 2011 brought millions of protesters to the streets. Activists called for the "fall of the regime," and events often turned bloody, with more than 2,000 deaths reported by Yemen's human rights minister. In November 2011, after many delays, Saleh finally signed an internationally brokered Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement to relinquish the presidency. In February 2012, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was elected in a one-man race called for under the GCC transition plan. Over this turbulent period the GPC's popularity, membership, and monopoly on government resources took a predictably hard hit. Now, with fewer spoils to go around and the need to mobilize support, the GPC will have to evolve into a more self-sustaining entity.