Yemen’s parliament gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits, a measure that would allow Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in power past the end of his current mandate in 2013.
The amendment would shorten also presidential term to five years from seven, Abdu Bishr, a member of parliament for Saleh’s General People’s Congress, said in an interview in Sana’a today.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been under U.S. pressure to crack down on al-Qaeda since the local wing of the group claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Dec. 25, 2009. In October, two parcel bombs sent from the country to U.S. synagogues were seized in the U.K. and Dubai.
Saleh, 68, a U.S. ally, became leader of North Yemen in 1978, and has ruled the Republic of Yemen since the north and south merged in 1990. He won elections in 1999 and 2006.
The “stability of the country necessitates that he should stay in power,” Sultan al-Barakani, head of the General People’s Congress, told reporters before voting. “He is accepted by everybody inside and outside the country.”
Other constitutional amendments receiving preliminary approval today included allocating 44 seats for women in the 301-member parliament, granting some power to the local councils and establishing two chambers for parliament. A committee will now review the amendments then send them back to the legislature in 60 days for a final vote, Bishr said. The amendments will be put to a referendum during parliamentary elections in April.
The U.S. asked Yemen, the Arabian peninsula’s poorest nation, to delay the decision on term limits and urged the government and opposition parties to negotiate on electoral reforms, according to a statement yesterday posted on the website of the U.S. State Department.
“We continue to believe that the interests of the Yemeni people will be best served through that process of negotiations,” the State Department said. “We urgently call on all parties to delay parliamentary action and to return to the negotiating table to reach an agreement that will be welcomed by the Yemeni people as well as Yemen’s friends.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to strengthen the Yemeni military and accelerate development of the economy as the government battles separatist groups as well as al-Qaeda.
U.S. military aid to Yemen was scheduled to be about $155 million in 2010, including Huey helicopters, Hummer vehicles and night-vision goggles, the Pentagon said in August.