SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni opposition member of parliament said President Ali Abdullah Saleh will share the fate of toppled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia unless he cleans up his government and starts fighting corruption.
“It has become totally unacceptable. The army is staffed with his relatives. Sovereign resources, especially oil and gas, are in his hands or his proteges’,” Abdulmoez Dabwan told Reuters in an interview on Monday in the Yemeni capital.
“There are no institutions. Yemenis want real reform, while the president’s statements have consisted of hot air. He has not yet grasped the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia,” said Dabwan, a member of the main opposition grouping in parliament.
The 240-member parliament has been controlled by Saleh’s allies for decades through what Dabwan described as unfair elections in which he said Saleh used government machinery to ensure a comfortable majority loyal to him.
Dabwan said Saleh’s reaction to the unrest in Yemen, which has killed 12 people since Thursday, was to play on the contradictions of Yemen’s tribal society instead of embarking on genuine reforms.
“The president is politically savvy. He said he would not run again, and he is playing on fears of chaos and divisions, but this is not enough,” Dabwan said.
U.S.-backed Saleh said protesters demanding an end to his 32-year rule could not achieve their goal through what he described as anarchy and killing.
His call for dialogue has been rejected by opposition parties who said they cannot negotiate with a government they say is using violence.
Protesters, encouraged by the overthrow of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, have demonstrated at the main university in the capital Sanaa and thousands have gathered in several Yemeni cities.
“We have not even seen a mass movement yet. Most of the protesters have been from the youth,” Dabwan said.
Assessing the impact of the Arab political upheaval, Dabwan said the economic and social malaise in Yemen was more acute than in Egypt, where frustration with unemployment and economic conditions helped bring down Mubarak.
“The corruption in Yemen would make Egypt look like child’s play. I would argue that the gap between the rich and poor is also more acute,” he said.
National income per capita in Yemen was around $1,100 at the end of 2009, compared with $2,500 in Egypt.
Most of the deaths during the protests have been in Aden, the southern port city where many people resent what they regard as discriminatory policies by the central government. Dabwan said Saleh has invited trouble there by ignoring the region since a southern challenge to his rule after unification in the 1990s.
“If there is democracy and real reforms the south will not separate,” he said.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan