Significant constitutional changes in Yemen took place in 1970, 1991, 1994, and 2001. Some 52 clauses of the Yemeni constitution of 1991 were amended in 1994 and 29 clauses were added, following the civil war of that year. The changes were adopted by the parliament in 1994. In 2001 the terms of office of the president and the National Assembly were each extended two years.
Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers
Following the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, a five-member Presidential Council was established, which included the presidents from both sides, who have become the president and the prime minister of the unified Yemen. The constitution of 1991 provided for a president, who is the head of state, a vice president, a legislature, and a Council of Ministers appointed by the president and headed by a prime minister. The current president is Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the prime minister is Abd al-Qadir Abd al-Rahman Bajammal.
The 1991 constitution called for the parliament to elect the Presidential Council and to vote on the composition and the program of the cabinet. The Presidential Council was to choose, from its membership, a president and a vice president and to nominate a prime minister. The president, the vice president, and the members of the Council of Deputies are chosen for five-year terms. The 1994 amendments abolished the five-member Presidential Council and stipulated that the president be chosen by universal suffrage for no more than two terms, each term of office lasting five years, extended to seven year in 2001.
The parliament ratifies laws and endorses the state’s general policy, the general plan for economic and social development, the general budget and the final accounts. It also engages in directing and overseeing the activities of the executive branch and discusses, ratifies, rejects, and amends legislation.
The president has the right to call for parliamentary elections and for a general referendum. He appoints a prime minister to form a government, and he also forms the National Defense Council. The president may dissolve the parliament by decree; however, he must call new elections within sixty days of the date of the decree. The parliament cannot be dissolved twice for the same reason. The president's right to rule by decree during the absence of the parliament was abolished by the 2001 amendments. The president may return a bill to the House of Representatives within thirty days of its submission to him. If he does not return the bill to the House within this period and the bill is then approved once again by the majority of the House, it is considered a law, and the president issues it within two weeks.
An impeachment of the president can be submitted by half of the members of the parliament. Referring the president to trial by the Supreme Court (see Judiciary) requires a two-third parliamentary majority. The judicial authority is independent. The General Prosecutor’s Office is one of its integral constituents. The Supreme Judicial Council oversees the nomination and appointment of judges, and works on implementing the guarantees given to judges for appointment or dismissal.
According to the constitution, Islamic social justice is the basis of economic relations, while private property is protected. The people of Yemen are the possessors and the source of power, which they exercise directly through public referenda and elections, or indirectly through the legislative, executive and judicial authorities, as well as through elected local councils.
Citizens are equal in rights and duties. Every citizen has the right to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country. The state is to guarantee freedom of thought and expression of opinion within the limits of the law. No individual can be arrested, searched or detained unless caught in the act or served with a summons from a judge or the public prosecutor. Physical and psychological torture and forced confessions are prohibited. The rights to defense and to council are constitutionally guaranteed.
The highest judicial authority in the republic, the Supreme Court, studies the constitutionality of laws and statutes.
Constitutional Amendments and Procedures
The president of the republic and two-thirds of the House of Representatives have the right to request and amend one or more articles of the constitution. If the request is rejected, another request for the amendment of the same articles may not be submitted until the lapse of one year. If three-quarters of the House agree on the amendment, it is presented to the people in a general referendum. If the absolute majority of those who vote are in favor of the amendment, the amendment is considered valid.
In August 2000, President Ali Abdullah Saleh proposed a series of amendments to the constitution. These amendments were voted on in a referendum on February 24, 2001. They include an added article to the constitution, declaring the protection of the environment a duty of the state. New amendments also increased the term of office of the parliament from four to six years, extended the presidential mandate to seven years, enabled the president to call directly for new elections, following the dissolution of the parliament, without a popular referendum on the reasons for dissolution, and eliminated the provision on the right of the president to issue decrees with the force of law when the parliament is not in session or is dissolved.
The new amendments also widen the powers of the Consultative Council, increasing its membership from 59 to 111 and enabling it to share the power to examine presidential nominees with the parliament. In addition, the Council now has the ability to vote on legislation when convened together with the House of Representatives either to discuss legilation related to defense, or to discuss a specific issue raised by the president. The Consultative Council, introduced by the constitutional amendments of September 9, 1994 (Article 125), consists of appointees from among experts and specialists in a variety of fields to assist the president in developing strategies on national and international issues.
Yemen is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).