Senate slam dunk

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 4 Aug 2020

Senate elections will be held next week, with the Mostaqbal Watan Party expected to win hands down, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Senate elections
photo: AFP

Egypt’s first Senate election will be held next week. Polls for Egyptians abroad will be held on 8 and 9 August, and at home on 11 and 12 August.

The National Elections Authority (NEA) announced on Sunday that 787 candidates will contest the election.

“This is the final number once appeals filed by rejected candidates were settled by courts on Sunday,” said NEA’s head Lasheen Ibrahim.

“One hundred of these will contest the party list seats, and the remaining 687 will run the individual seats,” said NEA.

Campaigning began on 26 July and continues to 8 August.

Candidates are prohibited from raising religious slogans or using mosques and churches for campaigning.

“Campaigning will be limited to posters of candidates in streets and public squares, but will otherwise take place mainly online,” said Ibrahim.

“Candidates can use caravan cars and loudspeakers to promote themselves in their districts, and hold personal meetings with voters and canvass door-to-door, but due to the coronavirus pandemic no public rallies are allowed.”

Sixty-three million voters are eligible to vote in the Senate poll.

“There will be 17,000 polling stations,” said Ibrahim. “Each polling station will have a ballot box for the party list seats and another for individual seats, and each station will be supervised by a judge.”

Minister of Local Administration Mahmoud Shaarawi announced that thousands of local council employees will help judges supervise polling stations and ensure that voters observe social distancing measures.

Political analysts expect the Mostaqbal Watan Party (Nation’s Future Party) to triumph in the Senate elections.

The final list of the Senate election candidates released by the NEA on 26 July revealed that the National Unified List, led by the Mostaqbal Watan Party, will run unopposed for the 100 seats reserved for party lists in the 300-member chamber.

With 59 candidates, Mostaqbal Watan dominates the 11 parties running under the National Unified List umbrella. The other 10 political parties on the Unified List will field just 41 candidates between them. Two other party coalitions, Ittihad and Long Live Egypt, were expected to vie for the 100 party list seats but their candidacy papers were rejected by the NEA.

Mostaqbal Watan also dominates in individual seats. The party, which has a majority in the House of Representatives, is fielding the largest number of individual candidates, with 95 members contesting 100 individual seats. Coming a distant second is the Wafd Party, with 20 candidates.

The Senate will comprise 300 seats, one-third elected via the individual candidacy system, a third through closed party lists, and a final third to be named by the president. The Senate law stipulates that at least 10 per cent of seats be reserved for women. Members sit for a five-year term.

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie told Al-Ahram Weekly that the final list of candidates released by the NEA guarantees Mostaqbal Watan will win 59 out of the 100 seats allocated to party lists unopposed.

“Article 25 of the Senate law, however, stipulates that if a party list runs unopposed, it is required to win at least five per cent of the vote in order to be declared the winner,” says Rabie. “If it fails to meet the threshold a re-election will be held.”

Founded in 2014, Mostaqbal Watan quickly became the majority party in the House of Representatives. Funded by businessmen who support President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s economic and security policies, the party gained 53 seats (nine per cent) in the House of Representatives’ elections in 2015, but by 2019 its ranks in parliament had been swollen by 200 defectors from other political parties.

Mohamed Shawki, the legal representative of Mostaqbal Watan, told reporters this week that the Mostaqbal Watan-led National Unified List should have little difficulty garnering five per cent of the vote.

“The number of registered voters in Egypt is estimated at 63 million, which means we need around three million votes to win unopposed,” he said.

“We will not hold public rallies due to the coronavirus, but we will use loudspeakers and caravan cars to promote the list,” said Shawki.

The National Unified List is comprised of 11 parties: the Mostaqbal Watan (59 candidates), the People’s Republican (10 candidates), the Guardians of the Nation (10 candidates), the Wafd (eight candidates), the National Movement (two candidates), the Reform and Development (three candidates), the Tagammu (two candidates), the Conference (one candidate), Egyptian Freedom (one candidate), Egyptian Social Democratic (three candidates), and Modern Egypt (one candidate).

The list includes the Mostaqbal Watan Party’s leader, former chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate; the deputy chairman of the party Hossam Al-Khouli; Wafd Party Deputy Chairman Yasser Al-Hodeibi; Wafd Assistant Secretary-General Tarek Al-Tohami; editor of the Tagammu Party’s mouthpiece Al-Ahali Amina Al-Naqash; Deputy Editor of the weekly Al-Osbou Mahmoud Bakri; Chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Farid Zahran, and steel tycoon Ahmed Abu Hashima.

The competition for the 100 party list seats will take place in four districts, two with 15 seats each and two with 30 seats each. The four districts are: Cairo and Middle Delta (35 seats); East Delta (15 seats); Alexandria and the West Delta (15 seats); and North, Middle and South Upper Egypt (35 seats).

Competition in next week’s Senate election will be confined to the 100 individual seats up for grabs of which 95 will be contested by Mostaqbal Watan candidates.

“Without any significant competition, Mostaqbal Watan is set to dominate the poll. The Senate election is a one-horse race,” says Rabie.

“I expect Mostaqbal Watan to win 80 or 85 per cent of the Senate’s contested seats. It will win 60 per cent of the party list seats and at least 20 per cent of the individual seats.”

Rabie warned voter turnout next week could be very low. “When people know that there is no significant competition, that the results are a foregone conclusion, they may well choose to stay at home.”

Mostaqbal Watan Deputy Chairman Hossam Al-Khouli has a different take on the poll. “I expect the next Senate to include representatives from a diversity of political forces,” he says. “With 24 political parties fielding 687 candidates for the 100 individual seats there will be stiff competition.”

It is now very clear that Mostaqbal Watan is extremely well-resourced, says Rabie, which has allowed it to “turn in a short period of time into a kind of a ruling party”.

Rabie notes the party’s candidates include many businessmen working in banking, the stock market, and contracting.

“These are wealthy individuals seeking Senate seats to gain political prestige and acquire parliamentary immunity,” says Rabie.

Rabie hopes that the 100 Senate members named by President Al-Sisi will include high-profile figures in different fields so the chamber at least contributes to revivifying political life.

“We also hope that in time the Senate will acquire greater supervisory and legislative powers,” he says.

Al-Khouli argues the Senate election will move political life forward.

“The Mostaqbal Watan-led list includes candidates from across the political spectrum in Egypt,” says Al-Khouli. “There are candidates from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, moderate leftist parties like the Tagammu, radical liberal parties like the Guardians of the Nation, and moderate liberal ones like the Wafd.

“This will ensure that the Senate includes representatives from political parties with diverse platforms and ideologies, and this is good for democracy.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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