SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s president will probably stay in office beyond a two-year interim period that expires in February because reforms needed for a transition to democracy need more time, two senior Yemeni officials said on Tuesday.
The delay may raise concern among Western powers anxious about instability in Yemen, an impoverished Arab state which borders oil exporter Saudi Arabia and which is struggling against an insurgency by one of al Qaeda’s most active branches.
Yemen is also grappling with southern secessionists and a rebellion in the north, which flared last month into full-blown sectarian clashes between Sunni Salafis and Shi’ite Houthi rebels in which more than 100 people have been killed.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took over as head of state in 2012 in a deal engineered by Washington, its Gulf allies and the United Nations to ease veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after months of mass protests against his rule.
The deal mandated Hadi to oversee democratic reforms during a two-year interim period, including amending the constitution and restructuring the armed forces to break the Saleh family’s grip on them. It envisioned elections in 2014.
“Everyone is in agreement that all the duties cannot be completed within the remaining time period to February 2014,” Yaseen Noman, an adviser to Hadi, told Reuters in Sanaa.
“Discussion is still ongoing ... I don’t think the extra time will exceed two to three years,” he said.
Sultan al-Atwani, a senior official at National Dialogue talks at which political groupings discuss proposed reforms, said some committees had not finished their tasks.
“The team in charge of the southern issue has not yet completed its work, as well as the team in charge of transitional justice. The remaining time is not enough to lay down a new constitution and a new election law,” Atwani said.
Southern secessionists want to divide Yemen into two regions, with the south having significant control over its own affairs. Several northern parties favour a multi-region federation.
Yemen’s north and its once-Marxist south united in 1990, but civil war broke out four years later in which then-President Saleh crushed southern secessionists and preserved the union.
In the decades since, the consequences of the conflict have fuelled southern demands for separation or autonomy.
Southerners complain of discrimination by the north, including the dismissal of tens of thousands of people from state jobs and seizure of state assets and private property.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism aide spoke with Hadi on Monday to discuss Yemen’s political transition and progress toward greater democracy.
Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alistair Lyon