An amendment by Yemen's parliament to the electoral law sparked an opposition sit-in on Sunday and claims that the ruling party has violated a 2009 accord providing for dialogue on political reforms.
The amendment, which was originally proposed along with various other political reforms in 2009, was passed on Saturday by a parliament heavily dominated by members and allies of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC).
It stipulated that the high electoral commission be composed of judges rather than delegates from parties represented in parliament as has been the case until now.
The opposition said that by passing the amendment unilaterally, Saleh's allies had "put an end to the national dialogue" and had rejected "the desire of the majority of the population for serious reforms."
The mandate of the current parliament was extended by two years to April 2011 following a February 2009 agreement between the GPC and opposition parties to allow dialogue on political reforms.
Reforms that were to be discussed included a shift from a presidential regime to a proportional representation parliamentary system and further decentralisation of government -- measures that have not been implemented.
The opposition, which includes the Islamist Al-Islah (Reform) Party, the Yemeni Socialist Party and other smaller factions, said the passing of the amendment marks "a conspiracy" against the 2009 accord.
Opposition and independent MPs on Saturday held a sit-in at parliament to protest the amendment, and followed it up with a similar action on Sunday.
The dialogue on reforms, in which civil society organisations were supposed to participate, has not come to pass, with a commission formed for the dialogue only having met once.
In proceeding with the amendment, the GPC said it desired to move ahead with legislative elections as scheduled in April to avoid a constitutional vacuum at the end of the period the parties were given for dialogue on reforms.
The 2009 accord extending parliament's mandate was reached with the help of a delegation from the European Union and the National Democratic Institute, and was overwhelmingly approved by Yemen's parliament on February 26, 2009.