Egypt's opposition wary of election plan, Islamists satisfied

Ahram Online, Friday 22 Feb 2013

Opposition forces alarmed by Egypt president Morsi's announcement of parliamentary election dates, saying no consensus reached on polls terms and electoral law; prominent Islamist figures conversely voice satisfaction

Parliament 2011
File photo of NSF member and head of Free Egypt Party Amr Hamzawy (L) and Deputy head of FJP Essam El-Erian in the now dissolved 2011 parliament (Photo:Reuters)

The presidential office's announcement of a date for the elections of the House of Representative (parliament's lower chamber formerly known as the People's Assembly) in Egypt has alarmed opposition figures, some of whom argue that a timeframe was released though terms and laws of the anticipated polls remain disputed.

The government announced dates and details, including that the first post-constitution elections will take place from 27 – 28 April and will be completed in four stages nationwide. The four stages will be over two months and the elected legislative body will convene its first session on 6 July. 

Opposition political parties responded to a call by the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front (NSF) to convene on Friday to discuss the government's announcement. 

Only last week was the elections law referred by the High Constitutional Court (HCC) back to the Shura Council (the parliamentary upper house that temporarily boasts legislative powers until the House of Representative is elected) after the court deemed ten articles unconstitutional.

Less than 48 hours after the HCC sent its recommendations to the Shura Council, the Islamist-dominated body announced that it amended the law to alleviate the HCC's concerns, and sent the draft law to President Morsi who ratified it on Thursday night calling for elections.


Founding member of the NSF and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei was the first to comment on the president's announcement via Twitter, saying, "Morsi's decision to go for parliamentary elections amid severe societal polarisation and the eroding state authority is a recipe for disaster."

ElBaradei recently met with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Chairman Saad El-Katatni in an attempt to reach consensus and end the political polarisation before elections.

Opposition – including leftists, liberals and most recently the Islamist Salafist Nour Party – has been intensifying against the Brotherhood, whom they accuse of monopolising politics by controlling syndicates, executive and legislative powers.

Opposition forces have also been complaining they were sidelined in talks over setting elections laws and timeframe.

The NSF demanded pre-conditions for dialogue with President Morsi, who was fielded by the FJP, including: the appointment of a new prosecutor-general in accordance with the constitution and judicial independence; amending Egypt's new constitution; postponing upcoming parliamentary polls, and guaranteeing judicial and international oversight of upcoming elections.

The Salafist Nour Party announced it had agreed with the NSF on the importance of the resignation of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil's cabinet and appointing a new prosecutor-general through the Supreme Judicial Council.

The Egyptian Popular Current, led by Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi, went beyond the NSF demands, stating last week it will boycott the coming parliamentary elections, regardless of guarantees, in objection to the current "undemocratic regime."

Sabbahi, for his part, slammed the decision as an "attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to again dominate parliament."

"The Brotherhood want to rush the elections because of its belief it will be able at to secure a third of the seats under the current circumstances," he stated during a meeting with Italian ambassador to Cairo, Maurizio Massari on Friday.

"In order for the NSF to vie for seats in a real competitive atmosphere that shall ensure proper guarantees [for free and fair elections], it will be able to win 50 per cent of parliamentary seats and will be the majority bloc within parliament."

The ex-presidential contender says what would guarantee fair electoral competition is the formation of an "unbiased" government instead of the FJP-majority cabinet to supervise the elections, forming a committee that would redraft the disputed constitutional articles, empowering the judiciary to fully supervise the coming elections, and to dismiss the current president-appointed prosecutor-general.

Other opposition parties are yet to announce an official stance after president Morsi announced elections prior to the expected date. Nor has any member of the Nour Party - now the main Islamist opposition to Morsi - yet reacted or commented on the decision.

Islamist satisfaction

On the other hand, shortly after the announcement of the elections dates, FJP Deputy Head Essam El-Erian, expressed optimism that the next House of Representatives will be diverse representing all political forces, including the different Islamist currents, liberals and the left. 

Warning against boycotts El-Erian further added "everyone realises the importance of this [political] stage and that the absence of one's voice will cost him long-term absence from political and party life."

Last year, the FJP amassed a 47 percent majorty in the now-defunct People's Assembly, altogether Islamist parties secured around 75 percent.

The ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Construction and Development Party stated on Friday that although it had hoped political forces would come to an agreement on the date for the coming election, it will not boycott the coming elections, as some have called for.

"The date chosen by the president is for the best of the country," the Islamist party explained their decision. 

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya also called on all political groups to participate in the elections and added it plans to run for elections as part of a "strong Islamist coalition."

Elections' stages

The first round of voting will be on 27 and 28 April and will take place in Cairo, Beheira, El-Minya, Port Said and North Sinai. If runoffs are necessary, they will take place on 4 and 5 May. 

The second round will be on 15 and 16 May in Giza, Alexandria, Sohag, Beni Suef, Aswan, Suez, Red Sea and New Valley. If runoffs are necessary there, they will take place on 22 and 23 May. 

The third round will be on 2 and 3 June in Daqahliyah, Qaluibiya, Menufiya, Qena, Damietta, Luxor, Matrouh and South Sinai. If runoffs are necessary there, they will take place on 22 and 23 May.

The final round will be on 19 and 20 June in Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Assiut, Kafr El-Sheikh, Fayoum and Ismailia. If runoffs are necessary there, they will take place 26 and 27 June.

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