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No last word on election laws

Several political movements are preparing themselves for the upcoming parliamentary elections, despite the ruling military council's refusal to scrap the controversial individual candidacy system

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 28 Aug 2011
Egyptian parliamentary elections
An Egyptian woman casts her vote during the Egyptian parliamentary elections last November (Photo: AP)
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Most of Egypt’s political movements and forces have begun rolling up their sleeves and preparing for the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for November. This is in spite of the fact that they cried foul over the last few weeks, accusing the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of ignoring their request that the 30-year-old individual candidacy system be entirely replaced by party slates. They have even gone so far as threatening a boycott of the elections.

In July, major political forces, most notably the Democratic Alliance of Political Parties (DAPP), which includes the liberal-oriented Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, were angered by SCAF’s changes to two laws regulating elections to Egypt’s two houses of parliament, the People’s Assembly and Shura Upper Council. DAPP expressed fears that maintaining the individual system represents a return to the corrupt political practices of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime, notably electoral fraud, vote buying and the proliferation of thuggery.

Threats of a boycott have, however, fallen on deaf ears. The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf showed no sign of responding to the request of scrapping the individual candidacy system. Newly-appointed Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs Ali El-Silmi said it is impossible to scrap the system altogether. This took political forces by surprise, as Al-Silmi is a leading member of the Wafd Party, which led the campaign against the individual system.

“To eliminate the individual candidacy system completely,” said El-Silmi, “risks a challenge on the grounds of constitutionality, since an exclusively party list system could be deemed biased towards independent candidates.” El-Silmi argued that “the best we can do now is that instead of having half of the seats in both houses decided via a party list system and the other half by individual candidacy, two thirds of seats will be contested by candidates on party lists and the remaining third by individual candidacy.”

Although surprising, El-Silmi’s announcement was not endorsed by SCAF. The council’s legal adviser, Major-General Mamdouh Shahin, had so far declined to comment on El-Silmi’s remarks. By contrast, the chief of military staff and deputy chairman of SCAF, Sami Enan, told a group of intellectuals in a meeting last week that “it is best that half of the seats in parliament be elected via the party list and the other by individual candidacy.”

Another SCAF source, who asked not to be identified, told the press early this week that “scrapping the individual candidacy system altogether will only serve the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and other Islamist forces.” He added that “civilian political forces should realise that getting rid of the individual candidacy system is not in their interest. The next parliament should include a diversity of political forces and this can never be guaranteed if individual candidacy is abolished.” He also argued that “many of Mubarak’s defunct NDP were competent figures, untainted by corruption practices and could be a good boost for civilian forces in next parliament vis-à-vis Islamists.”

On 19 August, SCAF unveiled the executive regulations of last March’s amendments of the 1956 Law on the Exercise of Political Rights. The regulations give sweeping powers to the Supreme Electoral Commission (ESC), mainly composed of judges, to supervise the upcoming parliamentary elections. This is a positive response to political forces who asked for reinstating full judicial supervision of elections. Hafez Abu Saeda, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) highly welcomed the regulations, deeming that “they aim at achieving transparency and [to] ensure that next elections are marked with integrity.”

The regulations give the SEC an upper hand over the electoral process, ranging from revising the list of voters to providing facilities to representatives of civil society organisations in monitoring the elections.

This news softened the positions of most political forces on the elections. Turning away from talk of a boycott, some even moved to form alliances in order to be able to better compete in the next elections. The chairman of the Wafd Party, El-Sayed El-Badawi, announced on 24 August that an alliance of 35 political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, is taking shape ahead of the elections. “This will be the biggest alliance and it aims to help all political parties have seats in the next parliament,” said El-Badawi.

El-Badawi also announced that “the Wafd said it would soon open the door for its members wishing to run on the party’s list of candidates in next elections.”

Another alliance, by the name of “the Egyptian bloc”, was also formed, including liberal forces standing against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. The bloc includes anti-Islamist Egyptian parties such as the Free Egyptians Party led by Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris, the Democratic Front Party led by liberal journalist Osama El-Ghazaly Harb, and the National Association for Change led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the ex-chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It also includes prominent leftist parties such as the Tagammu (Unionist), the Nasserist Party and the Egyptian Communist Party.

Wahid Abdel-Meguid, an Al-Ahram political analyst, believes that “regardless of whether the individual candidacy system will be abolished or kept in place, the position of most political forces is that they must gear up very quickly for the upcoming elections and that the sooner the better.” Civil forces, he added, have come to the realisation that “insisting on scrapping the individual candidacy system altogether will only serve Islamist forces and help them sweep the next parliament.” He argued that “although Muslim Brotherhood objected to the individual candidacy system at first, they backtracked, announcing that they are currently preparing their lists of candidates no matter what electoral system will be implemented.”

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