The NDC is the most important part of the GCC initiative. The conference sought to incorporate new forces for change in Yemen – predominantly driven by women and youth – as well as serious challengers to the state – Ansar Allah in Sa’dah and the Southern Movement – involving them in a process to draft a new social contract through comprehensive national participation. There were further hopes that the conference would present a promising model of what can be achieved through international consensus in resolving armed conflicts and civil wars, in the Arab Spring countries and more generally.
The initiative stipulated that the NDC would lead to the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of a referendum, with the transitional period (ending February 2014) culminating in parliamentary and presidential elections. By the end of December 2012 a preparatory technical committee, comprising most parties and political components along with active women’s participation, had developed procedures for the NDC. The committee stipulated that the NDC would comprise 565 members. It set terms for representation in the conference designed to promote “achieving change and facilitating Yemen’s transition” through the “establishment of principles of reconciliation and true partnerships in building a new Yemen”.
The committee guaranteed 50 per cent representation from the south, 30 per cent for women and 20 per cent for youth. It allocated conference seats among political parties and sectors of society, including the General People’s Congress and its allies, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah Party), the Socialist Party, the Nasserite Unionist Party, the five government parties (Arab Socialist Baath party, Yemeni Unionist Congregation, Union of Popular Forces, National Council and Al-Haqq Party), the Southern Movement, the Houthis, and independent youth, women, and civil society organisations. Other entities included the Rashad Party, the Justice and Development Party, and members appointed by the president.
The procedures defined the conference structure, presidium, decision-making mechanism and consensus-building mechanism. The technical committee further identified nine specific topics to be addressed at the conference and designated working groups to address each one: the southern issue; the Sa’dah issue; transitional justice; statebuilding; good governance; the armed and security forces; special entities; rights and freedoms; and development.
By providing the south with equal representation with the north – all groups participating in the conference had to nominate half of their members from the south – the NDC sought to encourage participation of the Southern Movement, representatives of which were also given special representation and voting privileges in the Southern Issue Working Group.
As the NDC prepared to begin, Yemen faced severe problems: national survival, deep national divisions, threatened identity, dysfunctional state bodies and structures, and severe economic strains. All these problems were compounded by the overarching challenges of corruption and terrorism. But at the same time there was great hope among many Yemeni people that the NDC could be a gateway to peace and national reconciliation, and would address the specific and urgent challenges represented by the nine NDC working groups.
The NDC was inaugurated on 18 March 2013 with a remarkable presence of regional and international partners. International support has accompanied Yemen’s political settlement since its inception and members of the UN Security Council visited Sana’a in January 2013. During the six months since its inauguration the NDC has been engaged in intense dialogue, with technical and expert assistance from the UN team led by the Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, and support from a number of specialised international and local non-governmental organisations. The NDC Secretariat, comprising Yemeni experts who provide administrative and facilitation support, has played a key role in assisting the work of the conference bodies, and supporting media, communication and education, and documentation.
An important component of the NDC relates to outreach and consultation, through which the conference has sought to include civil society, the media and the Yemeni public. It was intended that citizens would participate directly and indirectly in outreach activities to try to increase the legitimacy of the NDC process. But outreach consultations were carried out in a shallow way, and the input and feedback gathered were not properly streamed into the deliberations of the NDC.