Muslim Brotherhood braces for tough electoral race in runoffs

Yasmine Fathi , Monday 5 Dec 2011

While the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm performed well in the first phase of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, party officials are not resting on their laurels

Muslim Brotherhood
Supporters of the Freedom and Justice Party support their candidates in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.(Photo: Reuters)

After a successful run during last week’s electoral race, the Muslim Brotherhood is now gearing itself for Monday’s runoffs.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, will have 46 candidates entering the runoffs, ending the first stage of the three phase elections.

In the first phase, which took place on 28-29 November, candidates were competing for 56 seats across nine governorates. Already four individual seats have been secured with two going to FJP members Akram El-Shaer, who won the individual seat in Port Said, and Ramadan Omar, who took the workers seat in Helwan. The two other seats went to liberal activist Amr Hamzawy,  running as an independent won the professional seat in Heliopolis, and Mustafa Bakry, also running as an independent, who won the Helwan professional seat.

However, according to Essam El-Erian, deputy head of the FJP, 46 members of the party will be competing in Monday’s runoffs. These include 13 candidates in Cairo, eight in Alexandria, six in Kafr El Sheikh, three in Dumiyat, six in Fayoum, eight in Assiut, and two candidates in Luxor and the Red Sea.

The FJP proportional lists represented 11 parties who are members of the Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance. Final results from the first round have revealed the Alliance secured 40 per cent of the seats saved for proportional lists. It is not yet clear how many of the winners are from the FJP versus other parties.

“Their has been much controversy about the method used to count the votes,” El-Erian explained. “However, I can confirm that at least five of the parties will get representation in the parliament. These include the (Nasserist) El-Karama Party, the liberal Ghad El-Thawra, the centrist El-Hadara Party, the El-Amal Party, as well as our own FJP.”

For members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the numbers are promising, given that during the Mubarak era there was massive rigging against the group, which meant that many of their candidates were eliminated early in the race.

During these years, the Brotherhood was banned, and often following the elections patronising newspaper headlines would state that the “Mahzoura” (banned) Party did not win any seats, followed by even more condescending comments by Mubarak officials, that the Egyptian people simply did not want them.

This time, however, was a far cry from all previous elections. Hours, before the initial results began emerging, it was obvious that the FJP were winning. However, El-Erian insists that it is still premature to celebrate.

“I think we can only assess our performance after Monday’s reruns are finished,” he told Ahram Online.

El-Erian, who spent the Mubarak years in and out of prison, complained nonetheless of violations during the first phase that he hopes will not be repeated in the runoffs, or the upcoming second and third phases of the elections.

“We believe that there were mistakes in the first phase and even the head of Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) admitted it,” El-Erian says. “Various political parties have also made mistakes, but these can be avoided in the future.”

El-Erian says that the first post-Mubarak elections saw problems with crowding, due to unprecedented voter turnout, which led to chaos in counting stations where ballot boxes were taken after polling stations closed.

“Sometimes you would have 1,500 or 2000 boxes in the counting stations and this disrupted the counting process,” he says. “So we have suggested that the counting takes places in the separate polling stations.”

El-Erian shot down reports by the media and opposition that the FJP is sweeping the elections. “There is no sweeping or landslide victory at all,” El-Erian insisted. “You can say it’s a sweep if we won 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the parliament. However, at the moment you have 15 political parties who have won seats and will get representation, which means that the new parliament will be balanced.”

Accusations, however, have been hurled at the FJP for using Mubarak-style tactics to sway voters to their side. Complaints that they were violating rules set by the SEC, which bans party campaigning in front of polling stations, were rampant. However, FJP member competing in the runoffs for the professional seat in Alexandria, Hamdy Hassan, said that party delegates who were in front of the polling stations were not trying to affect the opinion of voters, but were only present as an organisational mechanism.

“We had members there with computers and laptops at the stations to help the voters only,” Hassan said. “For example, we would look up their names on the voter lists and tell them what their electoral number was. Maybe this is a violation to the SEC, but practically we needed to do this to organise the process that saw a huge influx of voters.”

Neither El-Erian nor Hassan would comment on their expectations for the upcoming two phases of the elections. 

“During the Mubarak era, because of the largescale rigging, we used to know the results before the elections even took place. But this era is over. We don’t know what the outcome will be. We just have to wait and see,” Hassan said.

However, they both agreed that the elections were transparent and objective, and hence will be representative of what the Egyptian people want.

“Yes, there are mistakes and violations,” El-Erian said. “But we all agree that if the elections continue this way, and we avoid previous mistakes, then we will inaugurate a new era where Egyptians have the right to peacefully transfer power from one regime to another by casting their vote in the ballot box. We’ve always dreamed of this in the past.”

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