Egypt elections: What went wrong?

Yasmine El-Rashidi , Thursday 2 Dec 2010

Following an already majority sweep, and subsequent boycotts of the run-offs by the opposition, Egypt’s parliament seems set on a coming term eclipsed by the NDP. What does it mean?


As the NDP moves towards an unprecedented majority victory in this year’s parliamentary elections, and opposition parties successively announce boycotts of next Sunday's runoffs and possible withdrawals from MP seats, the question of what this means for the future of the State, and indeed what exactly the government has planned, looms grim.

In the election’s first round last Sunday, the NDP clinched 209 seats in the 508 seat People’s Assembly, with just eight other seats being assigned elected members – five to opposition candidates and three to independents. In the run-off on 5 December, 548 parliamentary hopefuls have been scheduled to contest the remaining 283 seats. As tallied by the Higher Election Committee (HEC), they included 368 NDP, 9 Wafd, 6 Tagammu, 1 El Salam, 1 Gomhoury, 27 Brotherhood and 136 independents. That is 368 NDP to 180 'other'.

In the best case scenario of a parliament with diverse representation under the current constraints, the house could see – based on results so far and a dash of political manoeuvring to save face – a 90 percent NDP sweep. But if the outlawed Brotherhood and liberal Wafd stick to their guns and boycott the run-offs as announced this week, and if first round results are any indicator of what is to come, a worst case scenario could well see 491 NDP versus 17 other. A parliament with less than four percent opposition.

A majority sweep by the NDP was what had been expected, but analysts, experts, and even inside sources in government ranks, had calculated a more democratic looking Lower House Parliament. The liberal Wafd – seen as “good opposition” and which held the second largest opposition block in the outgoing parliament with 12 seats – was expected to have been pulled up in the parliamentary ranks, with forecasts for 40-odd seats. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, was anticipated to lose its 88-seat stronghold in parliament, shedding at least two-thirds.

The complete pulverization of any opposition so far has irked even candidates from within the ruling NDP, which 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has headed since 1981. Members of the 32-year-old party that was established by the late Anwar El Sadat, have said they are “disturbed” by the results, describing it as “damaging” to the party’s credibility.

Although the indicators of a government weary were perhaps evident long before election day, with the series of clampdowns and arrests of Muslim Brothers and activists, and the measures taken by the government to obstruct popular campaigning tools and strategies such as SMS and independent media platforms, the current predicament raises questions about what drove the government to take such severe measures to silence voices of dissent.

Critics have said that the ferocity of the crackdown on the Brotherhood, in particular, is indicative of growing concern by the regime about the balance of power amidst escalating discord fuelled by rising inflation and widespread poverty and economic woe. But while the opposition and some pundits and the media have implied it is a precautionary precursor to the presidential election year and a means of maintaining the Mubarak status quo, analysts insist that it is a situation that got out of hand.

“The NDP leadership wanted to keep their majority and cut down the Brotherhood, but they wanted considerable opposition representation, as well as an election that was fair and clean in terms of management,” says Amr Hamzawy, research director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Centre, explaining his doubts over whether the outcome was intentional or "a tragic case of overplaying the security card.”

An Egyptian election that includes rigging and a prominent security hand is expected, analysts say, but this year’s crackdown was “much worse than it has ever been in the past”, said Emad Gad of the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Although the political system has long operated on limited pluralism, "this is definitely not what they wanted - it runs counter to their interests,” Hamzawy says, pointing out that even in a best-case scenario, Egypt would be looking at an incoming parliament of 90 percent NDP. He says that Egypt’s democratic process, which has long been manipulated to maintain an NDP majority, faltered this time – "a security apparatus gone wrong, not knowing what to repress or harass to sustain the regime’s position while bringing down the Brotherhood."

The opposition have stepped up to denounce the current political predicament, implicating that the violence that marred this year’s elections could well continue – this time from a nation outraged at an establishment they view as tyrannical. Activists and human rights groups have said the regime is pushing a peoples to their limits, echoing suggestions of impending unrest. It is yet unclear what organized action grass-roots activists and opposition will take, save the verbal chorus that has glutted social media networks and opposition newspapers since election day.

“These threats that we are hearing from the opposition about violence have no substance. It is the expected talk,” Hamzawy insists. “I don’t see Egypt approaching a phase of unrest.”

Rather, the result of an election process gone awry is a regime that will face perhaps its greatest challenge contending legitimacy in what has been a long road to democracy – largely under pressure from the United States, a key ally and its largest provider of economic aid.

“What we should be looking at is a political system that is facing a crisis, at a significant political moment. The question of legitimacy is at stake,” Hamzawy said.

The question of what a parliament with an overarching NDP majority means to the nation is most pertinently looked at through the lens of its actions in the coming months and into the presidential election year. Egypt will face perhaps its greatest ever scrutiny under the lens of the international community as it prepares for what might be a historic 2011. The dynamics of a parliament that was always dominated by the NDP and ruling party voices is unlikely to conduct itself in a manner any different from past terms, but the methods Egypt’s regime employs to try to redeem its legitimacy in the face of US “dismay” and public discontent, is where analysts say Egypt’s strategic global clout, or lack-of, lies.

The NDP and the HEC continue to insist that although reports of tampered ballot boxes are valid – over 1000 boxes were annulled - the outcome of the results are fair. It is unlikely that position will change.

“We know the outcome of next Sunday’s run-offs,” Hamzawy says. “The question is where to from here. What will the regime do, and how will opposition parties organize themselves moving forward.”

While some opposition party members have already started to look beyond next Sunday’s run-offs – shrugging them off with declarations of boycotts and invalidity – there are no firm plans, as yet, from either the Brotherhood or opposition parties such as the liberal Wafd or leftist Tagammu as to how they will move forward in the aftermath of these elections and into this next Presidential election year. 

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