Record scramble for parliament seats and Brotherhood remnants

Gamal Essam El-Din, Friday 26 Nov 2010

A record 4,686 candidates are competing for the 508 seats of the People's Assembly. Ahram Online peers into the figures

ndp poster
Ruling NDP posters in a working-class neighborhood in Cairo. (photo: Reuters)

By the time candidate registration ended at 5pm on Sunday 7 November, the number of nominees contesting the 28 November election had swelled to an unprecedented 5,725 high – compared to 4,243 in 2005 and 4,250 in the 2000 election. However, by 15 November that number had dropped to 5,181 after 544 applications were rejected by the Higher Election Commission. (HEC). Sixty-two additional candidates withdrew from the race, bringing the total number to 5,121. On Friday the comission said the number dropped again to 4,686

The contestants will compete for 508 People's Assembly seats – 64 of which are reserved for women. The Constitution further grants the president the right to appoint 10 more members, bringing the total number of seats to 518, compared to 454 in the outgoing parliament, the difference owing to the introduction of “the women’s quota” for the first time in the 2010 elections.

In part, this further hike in the scramble for parliamentary seats may be attributed to the women’s quota, which tempted a fairly large number of women from various political trends to compete for the 64 women-only seats.

Statistics of the National Council for Women – headed by first lady Suzanne Mubarak – show that a number close to 1,100 women had expressed their desire to run in the election either as independents or on the lists of the candidates of opposition parties. The figures released by the Higher Election Commission (HEC), however, show that out of those, only 397 women had formally registered their candidacies when the door closed on 7 November. This number dropped to 380 by 15 November, due to disqualifications.

Parliamentary fever in the NDP:

Yet the “women factor” does not sufficiently explain the consistently intensifying scramble for parliamentary seats, which has become a distinctive feature of parliamentary elections in the country. The number of candidates running for non-quota seats is still 4,801, compared to 4,243 in 2005 and 4,250 in the 2000 election.

The HEC indicated that the total number of 5,181 means that eleven candidates on average will compete for a single seat in the same district.

Amr El-Chobaki, an Ahram political analyst, believes that the new hike in the number of candidates is not due, so much to the participation of women, as to the fact that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has decided to field a large number of candidates.

"At first, the party said it would field 508 candidates – equivalent to the parliament's elected seats – but it ended up fielding 770 for the 444 districts and 69 for the women-only districts or a total 839 candidates compared to 448 in the 2005 election," said El-Chobaki, who described this unprecedented step as “a very bad tactic.”

NDP leaders admitted that they were forced to field several candidates for the same seat in at least 145 constituencies to face strong competition from political parties and Muslim Brotherhood candidates. According to Ahmed Ezz, the NDP organizational secretary "the NDP was forced to field several candidates for the same seats in certain districts in which strong opposition rivals were nominated and we have decided to leave the choice for voters."

Pushing the numbers even higher was the by now familiar phenomenon of having large numbers of NDP members running as independents against the official party candidates, and rejoining NDP ranks once they win their seats in parliament. Such renegade candidates account for a large part of the NDP majority in the outgoing parliament, since more than half of the ruling party’s official candidates in the 2005 election (287) failed to win their seats.

The NDP leadership’s attempt to prevent this, admittedly, embarrassing phenomenon in the upcoming elections seems to have had little success however. Earlier this year, the NDP had innovated a complex three-stage process of candidate selection that included convening electoral colleges, conducting opinion polls and securing an avowed obligation by the losers in the internal selection process not to run as independents against the official party ticket. Furthermore, the leadership adopted a “may the best man win” attitude by running more than one official candidate for 140 seats.

None of this seemed to have succeeded in quenching the growing thirst for parliamentary seats in the ruling party’s ranks, however. It is estimated that some 2000 to 2,500 members opted out of the internal selection process and are running as independents. This is to be compared to 1,680 renegade members who ran as independents in the 2005 election.

According to HEC figures, the number of NDP official candidates is eleven times higher than those of all 14 political parties competing in the election, combined. This, is in spite of the fact that the number of candidates running on the tickets of other legal political parties (i.e. excluding the Muslim Brotherhood) is much higher, this time around, than was the case in the 2005 election.

Optimism among the legal opposition:

On 7 November, the HEC said the total number of political party candidates, including the NDP, stood at 1,223. This number, however, dropped to around 1,200 on 15 November, due to disqualifications. The NDP accounts for 839 or around 60 per cent of the political party candidates. The Wafd party –the biggest and oldest legal opposition party in the country – has fielded 205 candidates, while the two major leftist parties – the Tagammu and the Nasserist – have put up a total of 121 candidates, or 78 and 43 respectively. Other, basically marginal political parties have fielded a total 35 candidates, in addition to a yet unknown number of candidates running for the women-only seats.

Combined, the legal political parties are thus running 470 candidates, including 70 candidates competing for the women-only seats. This is considerably higher than the combined total of 350 legal opposition party candidates in the 2005 election, but still short of the total parliamentary seats on offer, numbering 508.

Ruling party political bosses, who view the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as their main antagonist, view this rise in the number of candidates fielded by the legal opposition parties as a positive sign. The Brotherhood held a record 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, a figure that the NDP leaderships seems determined to substantially reduce in the coming parliament.

According to Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Moufid Shehab, the rise in the number of candidates fielded by the legal opposition parties will contribute to reducing the Muslim Brotherhood’s share of parliamentary seats.

"The 2005 election was an exceptional case for the Muslim Brotherhood, because of the low number of non-NDP party candidates, which allowed them to win more seats than they deserved," argued Shehab. He predicted that, this time around, "the large number of NDP and non-NDP party candidates will stand as a formidable obstruction against the Brotherhood winning a similar number of seats."

Brotherhoodin retreat:

For its part, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood announced it had fielded 135 candidates, running by necessity as independents, in view of the MB’s outlawed status. This is a lower figure than the 161 candidates the Brotherhood ran in the 2005 elections, which is doubly remarkable since the number of parliamentary seats was increased by 64. 

Some Brotherhood sources are saying, however, that the group is running an unspecified number of candidates “secretly”, unidentified as Brotherhood candidates. According to these sources, these are alternate candidates who would step up in the event the official candidates are arrested or prevented from running. According to Essam El-Erian, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, the real number of Brotherhood candidates stands at 185.

On 17 November, the Administrative Court barred five notable MB candidates from running in various constituencies in Alexandria on the grounds that they did not fulfill the necessary requirements for running in the “workers” category. (The Egyptian constitution stipulates that 50 per cent of parliamentary seats be reserved for “workers and peasants, whereby each parliamentary constituency is represented by two members, one in the worker/peasant category, and the second as “other”, or professionals.)

Al-Ahram political analyst El-Chobaki dismisses the idea that the Brotherhood is running a substantial number of “secret” candidates. He attributes the decline in the number of candidates the group is running in these elections compared to 2005 to “internal divisions in the Brotherhood’s ranks.”

 

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