Abundance of parties and no efficacy

Hassan Abu-Taleb, Wednesday 24 Nov 2010

Guarantees for free and fair parliamentary elections will not alone lead to vibrant democracy if the parties competing for election are weak and lack popularity

Egypt has had a multi-party system since 1976, and yet there is consensus that all parties except the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have no influence in the political scene. It is true that there are currently 23 legal parties, boasting many enlightening and practical thoughts within their agendas, yet the majority are dependent on leaderships that consist of a single person or a limited group of people, and unfortunately all but six are effectively dying. And even those six parties, bearing in mind the major differences between them in terms of history, relative popularity, and the degree of agitation they can sometimes spark in the media, are inefficient by the definition agreed upon in political party studies.

Political party is about gaining popularity within society, the self-renewal of ideas, agendas and leading figures via internal democratic processes, and the willingness to compete to gain power according to applicable legal and constitutional mechanisms and through honest and transparent voting. In other words, efficacy means the ability of a party to win in general elections and then form a government and implement the agenda that gained the support of the people.

 If we apply these concepts to Egyptian parties we find that none of them meet such requirements; none can hope to take power through parliamentary elections, which otherwise is the main aim of any political party. All political parties in Egypt can hope for is to win a considerable or even limited amount of seats in parliament, to prove its existence in the political arena.

 Despite squabbling with each other, political parties in Egypt agree that their weakness and limited popularity is a result of the ruling political regime that established the formula of a restricted multi-party system three decades ago, including harsh provisions for any group seeking to create a political party and enjoy legal and legitimate status. One of the main demands of various political players is for the creation of parties to be allowed through simple notification, rather than the status quo of applying to the Political Parties Committee (PPC). Parties consider the PPC subject to the will of the ruling NDP, rejecting the registration of new parties unless unable to compete for — or effectively participate in — power.

 Currently active political parties often complain that external intervention causes internal dissidence, leading the party in question to collapse or lose credibility. Such insinuation usually means accusing the government, the NDP, or state security bodies of seeking to eradicate opposition parties, especially those who have the potential to compete with the ruling party.

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