Saleh was Yemen's first directly elected president in 1999, winning 91.2% of the vote. The only other candidate, Najib Qahtan al-Shaabi, is the son of a former President of South Yemen and a member of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party. However, Qahtan ran as an independent.
After the 1999 elections the Parliament passed a law extending presidential terms from five to seven years, parliamentary terms from four to six years, and creating a 111-member, presidentially appointed council of advisors with legislative power. This move prompted the non-profit organization Freedom House to downgrade their rating of political freedom in Yemen from 5 to 6.
Saleh announced in July 2002, during the 24th anniversary celebrations of his term in office as President of Yemen, that he would "not contest the (presidential) elections" in September 2002. He expressed hope that "all political parties - including the opposition and the General People's Congress - find young leaders to compete in the elections because we have to train ourselves in the practice of peaceful succession." However, in June 2006 Saleh changed his mind and accepted his party's nomination as the presidential candidate of the GPC, saying that when he initially decided not to contest the elections his aim was "to establish ground for a peaceful transfer of power" but that he was now bowing to the "popular pressure and appeals of the Yemeni people." Political analyst Ali Saif Hasan said he had been "sure [President Saleh] would run as a presidential candidate. His announcement in July 2005 – that he wouldn’t run – was exceptional and unusual." Mohammed al-Rubai, head of the opposition supreme council, said the president's decision "shows that the president wasn’t serious in his earlier decision. I wish he hadn’t initially announced that he would step down. There was no need for such farce."