Egypt's parliamentary elections: More seats, fewer candidates

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 3 Oct 2015

Political analysts ponder why, given 120 seats were added to Egypt's parliament, fewer candidates are running this year compared to 2011, and proportionally less than even before the 2011 revolution

elections 2015
Paperwork for nominations of potential candidates for parliamentary elections is reviewed by authorities, left, at a courthouse in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015 (AP)

In a statement on Egypt's upcoming parliamentary elections on 16 September, the Higher Elections Committee (HEC) in charge of supervising the polls announced that a total of 5,955 individuals had applied to run in the polls. One day later, however, the committee said the applications of as many as 535 individuals had been rejected, thus lowering the number of independent candidates to 5,420.

Even though some of the rejected individuals whose appeals were accepted were allowed by judicial authorities to re-join the election race, and even as the number of party-based candidates stands at around 600, political analysts agree the total number of candidates seeking to contest the coming polls is still low compared to previous polls.

According to Wahid Abdel-Meguid, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram's International Politics magazine and a political analyst, the above figures show that the number of candidates contesting Egypt's coming parliamentary elections will be relatively few. "We expected that a record number of candidates would contest the coming polls given the fact that the number of parliamentary seats has greatly increased. But this has not happened," said Abdel-Meguid.

Abdel-Meguid told Ahram Online that even if the candidates running on party lists — around 600 — in the two-stage elections were added, the total number of candidates would still remain low. "The total number of candidates, including independents and party-based candidates alike, is not expected to exceed 6,000, and this remains lower than the numbers in previous elections," he said.

Abdel Meguid explained that ten years ago — in 2005 — the number elected parliamentary seats was a total of 444 while the number of individual candidates stood as high as 5,177. "But while the number of elected seats in 2015 increased by 124 (up to 568), the number of candidates stood at just 5,420," he said, adding that "An increase by 124 seats should have meant that the number of total candidates increase by at least 2,000, to be more than 7,000."

"It is surprising that although the seats increased by 124, the number of candidates rose by around 350," said Abdel-Meguid.

More surprising still, Abdel-Meguid said, is that in 2011, when parliamentary elections were held for the first time after the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak, the total number of candidates skyrocketed to 10,251 candidates, including independent and party-based runners. "This was an unprecedented figure, although the number of contested seats in these polls stood at just 498 — 70 seats less than the current number," he said.

Abdel-Meguid believes that the above figures show clearly that the number of parliamentary candidates had been steadily increasing over the last 10 years. "You had 5,177 candidates and 444 contested seats in 2005; 5,411 candidates and 508 contested seats in 2010; and 10,251 candidates and 498 contested seats in 2012. Based on the above figures, and on the fact that seats increased by 120 and that parliament gained greater powers vis-à-vis the president, it was supposed that the number of candidates would continue increasing to hit a new record."

Concurring, Amr Hashem Rabie, an Al-Ahram political and parliamentary analyst, said: "The increase in total number of parliament's seats and in parliamentary powers should have encouraged more to run in the polls. But what we saw was a decrease."

But while Rabie believes that the lengthy, costly and cumbersome registration process this year might have dissuaded many from joining the polls, Abdel-Meguid believes that political reasons are to blame.  

Rabie noted: "Hopeful candidates were required to pay a lot of money in medical test expenses (LE2,850) and insurance (around LE10,000), not to mention that campaigning in a time with high inflation rates was beyond the financial capacity of many activists in most political parties."

Rabie added that financial woes and internal divisions have made it difficult for many political parties to field candidates. "Even members of these parties who decided to run as independents said they largely depend on luck and that they do not have any campaigning budget," he said.

Abdel-Meguid, by contrast, believes that "While the elimination of Muslim Brotherhood from political life has negatively impacted the number of candidates, the fear among many that the coming parliament — like the case with the 2012 People's Assembly — could be dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court has largely made the coming polls like a gamble for many politicians."

A study by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) shows that Islamist candidates in 2012's polls accounted for around 40 per cent of the total. "Now with most Islamist political parties and independents on the run, it was sure that the total number of candidates would decrease," said Abdel-Meguid.

Abdel-Meguid and Rabie fear that there will be little public enthusiasm towards voting in the coming polls. "The decrease in parliamentary candidates could also reflect a kind of dwindling enthusiasm for parliamentary elections among citizens not so much because of a lack of interest in politics, but because a large number of citizens may believe that the coming parliament will destabilise the country rather than help it move forward on both the political and economic fronts," said Rabie.

Rabie argues that many citizens believe that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi did a very good job last year, in both economic and political terms, and that "There is no pressing need for a parliament at the moment." "You would hear these views on television channels and on the street, and people say that the coming parliament will be filled with a lot of opportunists who will never do any good for the country," said Rabie.

Abdel-Meguid believes that the fact that Egyptians were forced to go to polling stations six times in three years — between March 2011 and May 2014 — and that they were told every time that it was a step towards democracy could make it boring to participate in the ballot this time. "Not to mention that an improved economy — rather than a talkative parliament — is now a supreme priority for most citizens," said Abdel-Meguid.

ACPSS's study shows that voter turnout in the 2011 parliamentary elections hit a record of more than 60 per cent. "I expect that this per cent will drop, by 20 per cent or 30 per cent, due to all the abovementioned reasons," Abdel-Meguid said.

A study published by Al-Ahram newspaper 22 September shows that as many as 84 out of over 100 registered political parties have decided to run in the coming parliamentary polls, either acting on their own or as members of an electoral coalition, or just fielding candidates as independents.

The study said that out of the total number of independent candidates, more than 2,200 candidates were members of former president Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Around 740 are affiliated with liberal political parties, around 600 are affiliated with leftist forces, and around 350 are affiliated with Islamist forces.

The study said the remaining independent candidates — around 3,200 — are without clear political affiliations. "These represent different professions, such as doctors, journalists, lawyers, former police and army personnel, former judges, engineers, human rights activists and businessmen," said the study.

The study said candidates who have applied as businessmen account for 45 per cent of the total.

It also said female candidates will account for five per cent of the total, with 112 women slated to contest the first stage of the polls, scheduled to begin 17 October.

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