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A new, model parliament (5)

Electoral malpractices committed in the name of the NDP detracted from the huge efforts made by the party in preparation for the election. These, however, did taint the overall picture of the poll

Ahmed Ezz , Tuesday 28 Dec 2010
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Certainly, there were violations and transgressions during the voting process in a number of districts, both against party candidates and other contenders. An eloquent summary of the violations came in President Mubarak's speech to the party's parliamentary bloc on 12 December: "the violations in the elections are negative and unacceptable behaviour by some candidates and their supporters. We are working hard to change this for the better. We denounce this behaviour which attempted to override the will of the people by using money, violence and intimidation. These were violations and abuses which the Supreme Committee for Elections [SCE] dealt with in a responsible and impartial manner. State agencies also dealt with these violations so as to ensure the safety of the elections and the voters. In all cases, these violations do not negate that the elections took place in the majority of districts in compliance with the rules and regulations, without violence, transgressions or violations."

On this issue and I would like to make a number of points. First, while we regret these violations took place, we do not believe that they tainted the overall picture. The general picture was of strong competition in the majority of districts. There are many who claim that the violations at some voting stations occurred at all 222 districts across the country, but they have no means of gauging the overall scene across the country. The only body that could have an overall picture is the SEC since it was in constant contact with 10,000 ballot stations throughout the period of voting.

According to this committee, "violations did not influence the integrity of the results". A report issued at the end of the first round stated that the committee "comprehensively rejects claims that some attempts to rig votes -- which the committee prevented -- was the general practice in this round of voting."

Second, I can ascertain that before the elections we were the most active in ensuring that balloting would be transparent and candid. We told our members ahead of the elections to remain within the law. The Secretary General of the party Safwat El-Sherif reiterated on more than one occasion that the party is working to ensure the integrity of the elections. Repeated messages to our members were consistent: "Losing a seat with honour is better than winning unscrupously. We do not tamper with ballot boxes; we do not invalidate voting cards." On the eve of the elections, we sent 6,000 text messages to party secretaries across the country with this message. One week earlier, the party Secretariat sent an audio/video message to the secretary of each party office reiterating the same.

Third, the districts where there were violations are alien to the kind of elections we want to see in Egypt. The same type of violations were recorded in some districts in the 2005 elections. The opposition, even more than NDP members, knows that we exerted a huge effort for months and years to prepare for the elections. Anyone who committed violations stole from the party the immense effort of the past five years. Nothing could hurt the party more than someone who committed violations in its name.

Fourth, we thank the members of the SEC for their role in ensuring that violations did not influence the final outcome. The people must know that uncovering violations during ballot counting is not difficult; not by cell phone cameras, but by a more thorough method used by SEC judges. They remove any ballot box which either has shown much higher than average ballots in comparison to other ballot boxes, or any box which is stuffed with votes for the opponent in what are known to be voter bases of another candidate. The result was the removal of 1,053 ballot boxes out of about 40,000 boxes. We thank the SEC for removing any box that had the slightest hint of tampering.

Five, the goal of the NDP in any election is to win by a majority and not to completely eliminate the opposition. The opposition is part of any system working towards political opennes, and the more organised and active the opposition in Egypt, the better it is for the future of the country. The NDP knows this, but at the same time it cannot be asked not to contest some districts so that the opposition can have more seats. Not only because this actually means that the party freezes work in these districts for for five years, but also because an opposition with more seats in parliament because the majority party vacated the seats for them is not the type of opposition that would serve the interests of the country.

At the same time, everyone should realise that a number of leading members of the NDP's parliamentary bloc in previous parliament, and whom the party would have liked to see in this session also, did not win their seats. We lost two members of the general secretariat, namely Ahmed El-Mansi Eyad, the secretary for the farmers and Amr El-Heini. We lost a number of committee chairmen, including former MP Ahmed Abu Taleb, the chairman of the Culture, Information and Tourism Committee; Maher El-Dorbi, chairman of the Local Government and Popular Organisations Committee; Sherif Omar, chairman of the Education Committee; Dr Hamdi El-Sayed, chairman of the Health Committee; Mustafa El-Saeed, chairman of the Economic Committee. We also lost Ibrahim El-Gogari, deputy chairman of the Legislation Committee; Yasser Omar, the prominent representative from Assiut; Mona El-Shahhat, Arabic language professor and our nominee for the women's seat in Qena; as well as others who are of great value to the party.

We do not view the next parliament as one without opposition, as some claim. First, because opposition in the form of political party blocs occupies 16 seats in this parliament, which is two seats more than in the previous parliament. Second, because non-party opposition is present, whether with the benefit of a seat in parliament or not. Third, because experience has taught us that incessant criticism in the media is sometimes louder than the elected opposition in parliament.

This parliament is perhaps an opportunity to prove to the public that scientific, methodical and powerful supervision, as well as objective questioning based on facts and evidence is a more effective way of overseeing the decision-making process in public policy. Perhaps we will persuade the citizenry that there is a better way of constructive dialogue in parliament. Efficient monitoring does not rely on interpolations based on stories in newspapers and magazines, but is done through asking important questions based on correct information which convinces the person being questioned before the questioner. One proposal for debate by one of our MPs could be more effective than 20 interpolations by the opposition. This is the responsibility of the NDP in the new parliament.

The new parliament may also discuss important issues which arose in the last parliamentary session, including a new outline for the role of an MP to balance between being a member of parliament and focusing on the problems of his constituents. This would end the public impression that the role of an MP is to provide services, allowing him to serve his district without actively finding jobs in government offices or seeking a signature on an application to receive medical assistance through the state. These type of interferences cause more harm than good because they provide an essential services to only one citizen, which violates the principle of equal opportunity for thousands of others.

For example, the comprehensive health plan eliminated the role of MPs in getting approvals on health services, and at the same time advocates justice and equality in providing services. Amending laws regulating public office, whereby candidates are chosen in a serious and transparent competition rather than based on the MP's ability to find jobs for his constituents, would be a better model.  The process would be based on set requirements, rather than on the ability of the youth to reach their representatives to see if they can pull some strings on their behalf. The role of an MP would be to oversee the application of this law, amend it when necessary to keep it current. In time, his role in parliament will be seeking investments, especially in his district to create jobs. This is the proper way for an MP to deal with the issue of unemployment and not to directly interfere every two or three months to get a constituent hired.

Another important topic is addressing the conflict between the personal interests of an MP and his supervisory and legislative role. The tool could be legislation which obligates every representative to declare his personal, commercial or legal connections, which is practiced in many countries. The truth is, there is nothing wrong with an MP having personal interests, but he is obligated to declare them in a proper manner and at the right time. That way, other MPs, the media and society can judge how far the representative's personal interests influence his positions.

These issues, and others, are the true tests of the new parliament. Our goal is for parliament to be a model of proper legislative performance, where the debates and discussions lead us to choose the best path for our country.

Ahmed Ezz is the Organizational Secretary of the National Democratic Party and the man behind the ruling party's sweeping win in the 2010 parliamentary elections.

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