Constitution Party backs Sabahi for Egypt's presidency

Mariam Rizk , Wednesday 16 Apr 2014

The liberal Constitution Party announces its support for presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi and presents a list of demands for Egypt's next president

Second from left presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi and head of the Constitution Party Hala Shukrallah (Photo courtesy of Constitution party's official Facebook page)

A leading Egyptian liberal party has announced its official support to presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi in the country's much anticipated vote slated to take place 26-27 May.

The Constitution Party, launched in 2012 by Nobel Laureate and former vice president Mohamed ElBaradie, said in a press conference on Wednesday that it would back the leftist politician Sabahi, who it considers the candidate closest to the party's values and aspirations.

Sabahi, a Nasserist politician who finished third in the 2012 presidential elections, is facing fierce competition from the country's former military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, whose popularity surged after he led the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July after days of mass protests against his rule.

Speaking to reporters, Sabahi said that becoming president is an opportunity for him to bring the people's revolt from the streets to the ruling chairs.

"The revolution which rocked the country's squares [and] dropped two heads of two regimes has not managed to make it to [a position of] authority," he said, speaking of the toppling of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and Morsi in 2013.

"Neither the corruption of Mubarak nor the oppression of Morsi nor any new mix, whatever disguising masks it puts on … will be able to live and rule," he added.

Most of Egypt's popular support is believed to go to El-Sisi, thought by many to be a potential saviour for the country against what his fans say was an abuse of power by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group.

El-Sisi has already received a mandate to run by the country's top council of military generals and is likely to win by a landslide. Critics, including his rival Sabahi, consider the former general's candidacy tantamount to the army "interfering in politics."

"In our vision, the role of the national army, which we respect, is to do their duty in protecting the country and its people … not to present itself as a ruler or a controller or a party in the political scene and electoral battle," Sabahi said.

The Constitution Party elected a new head in February, Hala Shukrallah, who became the first Coptic Christian woman to lead an Egyptian party.

It is the second political party, after Sabahi's own Karama Party, to back the Nasserist candidate.

In a survey held within the Constitution Party regarding its stance towards the upcoming polls, Shukrallah said that nearly 60 percent were in favour of backing Sabahi, while 10 percent went for El-Sisi. Thirty percent felt they should boycott the elections.

However, Shukrallah said that the party's stance is not binding and that its members are free to choose any candidate they like.

A statement released by the party after Wednesday's press conference detailed the party's demands for the new president, which included real solutions to corruption, ignorance, repression and social justice.

Some voices have called for a boycott of the vote, like Khaled Ali, who ran in the 2012 election but has said that he will not enter this year's race, which he has called a "farce."

The Constitution Party and Sabahi, on the other hand, say they would rather "work to snatch freedoms" than boycott the polls altogether.

Khaled Dawoud, the party's spokesman, said that they would respect the people's choice in the election, although he acknowledged that his party's members would still have to "work closely to monitor the integrity and the fairness of the elections on the ground."

"We will not stay in our homes, refraining from voting, waiting for any authority to give us free elections before we participate," Sabahi said. "We enforce integrity. We do not take it as a gift."

Sabahi said that if he does not win the presidency, he would still work to form a "strong opposition."

His campaign has complained of harassment and bias towards El-Sisi while campaigning and gathering the 25,000 recommendation forms required of candidates.

In light of such claims, Sabahi said that anyone who could overcome the "obstacles" to fill out a notarised recommendation form for his candidacy was a "hero."

He said that his campaign has already gathered the required number of forms but, according to Egypt's election law, still needs to obtain endorsements from at least 15 governorates.

Meanwhile, El-Sisi's campaign announced on Wednesday that it had gathered far more than the required number of signatures, with more than 500,000 recommendations, according to his campaign's legal advisor Mohamed Abou Shuqqa.

Sabahi said he and his supporters will also contest parliamentary elections, expected to take place once the new president is sworn in, and will also participate in polls for local councils to prove "that the voices of Egyptians in the squares are the same as their voices at the ballot boxes."

The Constitution Party on Wednesday further reiterated its call for all political detainees to be released and for the protest law responsible for their arrest to be cancelled.

Sabahi said that if he became president, abolishing and then rewriting the protest would be his first step.

"Prisons will not be a place for people who speak their opinions," he said.

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