As president of North Yemen, Saleh's policies were guided by three principles: stabilization of the domestic scene, improving the economic situation, and union with the South.
In general, both South and North Yemen suffered from political instability beginning in the early 1960s. Both countries were the victims of numerous military coup d'etats, revolutions, assassinations, and civil wars. Yemen's tribal structure and the fact that two governments with opposing political ideologies ruled in San'a and Aden made it fertile for violent uprisings, often backed by foreign powers. Until unification, the two regimes were often actively involved in plots to overthrow each other. In addition, foreign powers like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the superpowers, often tried to exploit the differences between the two regimes and the various social groups. Hence, when President Saleh took office, his first task was to build a national consensus. He did this by improving relations between San'a and its neighbors, in particular South Yemen, and by devising a mechanism through which different social groups could voice their grievances.
Saleh's tribal background has given him an appreciation of the importance of tribes in the Yemeni society. Whereas Yemeni leaders before Saleh had tried to eliminate the tribes and exclude them from participation in the political life of the country, Saleh has actively courted the tribes and tried to integrate them into Yemeni society and politics. At the same time, he has also been responsive to the needs of other groups. Under Saleh's leadership, Yemen has developed democratic institutions and in 1988 it became the first country on the Arabian peninsula to have an elected Parliament.
Constitutional amendments adopted in the summer of 2000 extended the presidential term by two years, thus moving the next presidential elections to 2006. The amendments also extended the parliamentary term of office to six years, thus moving elections for these seats to 2003. On 20 February 2001, a new constitutional amendment created a bicameral legislature consisting of a Shura Council (111 seats; members appointed by the president) and a House of Representatives (301 seats; members elected by popular vote).