The Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has agreed to hand over the day-to-day running of the country to his deputy leader and to quit as head of state by the end of the year after 33 years in power. Should he meet the terms of the agreement, he will be the fourth head of state in the region to be unseated by the uprisings of 2011.

Saleh flew to Riyadh on 23 November for a ceremony at which he signed two agreements, the first endorsing a GCC-brokered plan for a peaceful transition of power, the second ceding formal power to his vice-president, Abdrabbu Mansour al-Hadi. He had previously agreed to sign the deals three times before reneging on his word.

The first agreement calls for the president to formally resign from the post within 30 days of signing the deal, while the second allows al-Hadi to appoint a new prime minister and unity cabinet, and to call for early presidential and parliamentary elections. Although the president will resign by the end of the year, he will remain de facto head of state until new presidential elections have been held, probably in February 2012. The new government will have about two months during which to organise the elections, which should be announced by al-Hadi in early December.

The new prime minister will be drawn from the opposition coalition the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), while the cabinet will be made up of a 50:50 split of parliamentarians from the JMP and the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). Al-Hadi was given two weeks from the signing to assemble the new unity government.

JMP insiders say two candidates are under consideration: Mohammed Basindwah, head of the National Council, set up earlier in the year to act as a shadow government, which incorporated independent politicians and youth activists; and Yassim Said Noman, head of the southern Yemeni Socialist Party.

Yemeni political insiders remain sceptical over Saleh’s will to stick to the terms of the deal and highlight that it does not call for the military, dominated by Saleh family members, to be instantly restructured.