NDP runs against itself and may the best man win

Wednesday 24 Nov 2010

Everything you wanted to know about the NDP ticket and were reluctant to ask.

The leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) kept the list of its candidates in the parliamentary election a closely guarded secret until the very last moment, when the door for nominations was officially closed in the late hours of Sunday 7 November.The release of the list, at long last, triggered a furor of protest within party ranks, and a stupefied reaction among the rest of the country. There was no surprise, however, in the fact that some 50 high-profile entrepreneurs and old-guard party veterans dominated the list. These were virtually guaranteed regaining their seats in the outgoing parliament.

The ministers:

Among the likely winners are Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali, who is running in the north Cairo district of Shubra, Sayed Mashaal, minister of military production, running in the southern Cairo working class suburb of Helwan, and Ali El-Moselhi, minister of social solidarity, contesting a seat in the Delta constituency of Abu Kibir, in Sharqiya governorate.

This year’s list also includes a number of cabinet ministers who did not hold seats in the outgoing parliament. These are: Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza, running in El-Tilien (Sharqiya governorate); Irrigation Minister Nasreddin Allam, in Juhanya (Sohag governorate); Moufid Shehab, minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs, running in Moharrem Bey (Alexandria); Mohamed Abdel-Salam Al-Mahgoub, Minister of Local Development, running in Al-Raml (Alexandria); Fayza Abul-Naga, Minister of International Cooperation, in Port Said; Sameh Fahmi, Minister of Petroleum, in Nasr City (Cairo).

The old guard:

Also in the running are a number of party old guard, whose political careers as members of the ruling party go as far back as the NDP’s political forerunner, the Arab Socialist Union. These include septuagenarians Fathi Sorour, parliament speaker since 1991, running in his traditional constituency of El-Sayeda Zeinab, a lower middle class Cairo district, Zakaria Azmi, chief of presidential staff and NDP's assistant secretary-general, running in the east Cairo's district of Al-Zeitoun; and Kamal El-Shazli, a former cabinet minister and a member of NDP's politburo, running in El-Bagour, Menoufiya governorate.

An additional four former cabinet ministers are also standing: Mostafa El-Said, a former economy minister and chairman of parliament's economic committee, is running in Diarb Negm (Sharqiya); Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former irrigation minister, in Nahtai (Gharbiya); Amal Othman, a former social affairs minister and chairperson of parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee. Ahmed Guweily, the former minister of trade, had sought to run in Beheira governorate but was excluded from the party list.

The business tycoons:

The biggest winners on this year’s NDP's list of official candidates are high-profile businessmen who are said to closely tied to President Hosny Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who heads the NDP’s influential Policies Committee. Topping this list are Ahmed Ezz, NDP's secretary for organisational affairs and chairman of parliament's budget committee; Mohamed Abul-Enein, chairman of parliament's industry committee, running in Giza; Tarek Talaat Mostafa, chairman of parliament's housing committee and brother of Hisham Talaat Mostafa, the notorious business tycoon who is currently serving a 15-year prison term for conspiracy to murder Lebanese singer, Suzanne Tamim.

Other top business tycoons topping the NDP list are: Mansour Amer, of the Amer Group for Tourist Development, running in Shebin Al-Qanater; Mohamed El-Morshidi, a contracting magnate, running in the upper class Cairo suburb of Maadi; and Talaat El-Qawwas, a textile tycoon, running in the downtown Cairo district of Abdeen.

Returning MPs:

Neither was it surprising that the NDP list should include a large of MPs from the outgoing parliament. The ruling party is re-running 305 serving MPs, 50 of whom are long standing MPs, whose parliamentary service predates the 2005 parliament. Mahmoud Nafadi, an expert in parliamentary affairs, noted that this time around the ruling party had excluded from its list just 40 members of the outgoing parliament, a mere 10 per cent. According to Nafadi, this is in sharp contrast to the exclusion of 40 per cent of MPs in 2005 and 50 per cent in 2000.

According to Nafadi, this seems to indicate that the wide range reforms introduced by the NDP leadership in the party’s candidate selection processes (electoral colleges, internal elections, opinion polls) have had very little effect in introducing new and more youthful faces, as had been predicted. This is an assessment with which NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif disagrees, however. “At least 30 per cent of the NDP’s candidate list is made up of new young faces, including journalists, engineers and doctors,” said El-Sherif.

New young(ish) faces:

Among the young and new is Mohamed El-Baradei, the son of the governor of Damietta Fathi El-Baradei, himself a cousin of former International Atomic Energy Agency and prominent opposition political figure Mohamed El-Baradei. The young Baradei is running on the NDP ticket in the Delta city of Kafr El-Zayyat, Gharbia governorate. This category includes also Abdel-Mohsen Salama, a journalist with Al-Ahram and board member of the Press Syndicate, running in Shubra; Madiha Khattab, the sister of the Minister of Population and Family Affairs Moushira Khattab, competing for the women’s seat in South Cairo; and Hani Abu Rieda, deputy chairman of the Egyptian Football Association and a board member of the FIFA, running in Port Fouad.

The free for all:

While none of this was very surprising, a bombshell lay in store. In an unprecedented move, the ruling party was running more than one official candidate for the same parliamentary seat, with the official party ticket including as many as 780 candidates competing for a total of 508 contested seats of parliament. This apparently bizarre measure of a party running against itself in a staggering 140 seats (nearly 30 per cent of the total number of contested parliamentary seats) stupefied the general public, even as it triggered furious reactions within NDP ranks.

In fact, there is nothing terribly new in the NDP running against itself. Indeed, a large percentage of the fiercest electoral battles in past elections, many of which involved violence and killings, were engaged between competing NDP members. The difference, however, was that, in these past elections, the ruling party’s official candidate was challenged by (an often temporarily) renegade member of the party, running as an independent. Invariably, a large percentage of the renegade members defeat the party’s official candidates, and are reinstated in NDP ranks as soon as they take their parliamentary seats. So much so that the NDP majority in the outgoing parliament is made up in large part of successful renegade members who ran against the official party ticket, which in the 2005 election had a success ratio of a mere 34 per cent, with 287 official candidates having lost their races.

Against this background, the NDP leadership decided to run more than one candidate for the same parliamentary seat, adopting a  “may the best man win” attitude. Party Secretary-General El-Sherif explained “the party was obliged to do this after it found out that most of these candidates enjoyed similar levels of popularity.” For his part, Ahmed Ezz, the NDP organizational secretary, said “the NDP decided to field more than one candidate in certain districts in which opposition rivals are running, and we decided to leave the choice for the voters.”

But even this concession to the growingly frenzied scramble among NDP members for parliamentary seats proved wholly inadequate in quenching the party membership’s thirst.

Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak and chairman of the NDP’s influential Policies Committee, told Egyptian television in a recent interview, that a total of 3,700 members had been competing for a place on the official party ticket. “We decided to select just 780,” he said.

The temporary renegades:

Notwithstanding the leadership’s unusual concession of running competing official candidates, as many as 2,920 party hopefuls were barred from the party ticket. Many of these are crying foul, going to the extent of threatening to retaliate by supporting the candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties.

They complain the party leadership’s selection of its official candidates was marred by favoritism and influence peddling, rather than by a democratic process. Talaat Abdel-Qawi, a former MP who was excluded from the list of NDP candidates, alleged that some of the business tycoon candidates were selected because of the large money contributions they made to the party, as well as their being members of the Policies Committee, headed by the younger Mubarak.

Responding to these attacks, NDP Secretary-General El-Sherif said the excluded hopefuls had been kept out of the official ticket for a number of reasons, “among these, if they were found to have been rejected by public opinion, or lacked popularity on the street, or were implicated in corruption.”

Critics countered El-Sherif’s claims by citing the names of a number of official NDP candidates who cannot be said to possess sterling reputations. One such controversial figure is Nashaat El-Kassas, the NDP member from North Sinai, who – in a speech in parliament – called on the police to shoot to kill peaceful pro-democracy protesters. Another is Heidar Boghdadi, a member from Cairo who was arrested at a night club for engaging in lewd behavior with a much younger woman.

Human and civil rights groups have been particularly critical of the inclusion in the NDP list of a number of police officers who have been implicated in cases of torture, such as Hazem Hamadi, an NDP candidate running in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag.

And the Copts:

Members of Egypt’s Coptic minority also found the NDP official list particularly disappointing. Out of the 780 names on the list, only 10 are Copts. Egyptian Copts are estimated to number some 6-10 per cent of the population (there are no official figures).

Naguib Gabriel, a prominent Coptic lawyer, said he will file a lawsuit against the NDP on behalf of one of the Coptic members who were excluded from the party list. According to Gabriel, his client, Magdi Qedis, had registered to run as an NDP candidate in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena. However, not only did the party leadership reject his application, but they forced him to surrender his identity card to the local party office, to ensure that he would be unable to run as an independent. According to Gabriel, this act constitutes a violation of Qidis’s political rights.

Most prominent of the NDP's Coptic candidates is Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali, running in north Cairo's district of Shubra.

Half the battle inside the NDP:

According to Amr El-Chobaki, an Ahram political analyst, the NDP's decision to field several candidates to contest same 140 seats means that at least 40 per cent of the competition in the upcoming poll will be dominated by NDP candidates running against each other. “Not to mention,” adds El-Chobaki, “that more than 3,500 NDP members who are running as independents.” In El-Chobaki’s view, at least half the upcoming parliamentary contest is one where the ruling party is running against itself.

In his interview with Egyptian television, Gamal Mubarak tried to calm ruffled feathers within his party’s ranks. “I know that many NDP members felt upset and despondent when they found out that their names had not been included on the list, but this is natural and we did our best to select the largest number possible, with the highest level of popularity.”

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