Egyptian parties prepare for parliament elections: Setting out the stalls

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 9 Oct 2020

Two weeks before the first polls open, political parties are staking out the battleground in the House of Representatives election

File Photo: A general view of the Egyptian parliament during a working session (AP)

Political parties began preparations this week for the first stage of parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held between 21 October and 30 November. The National Election Authority (NEA) said campaigning will begin on 5 October and run until 18 October, three days before voting takes place on 21 October for expatriate Egyptians. For voters in Egypt, the polls will open on 24 October.

The NEA announcement came after the Supreme Administrative Court on Sunday rejected appeals filed by lawyers petitioning to have to elections suspended on constitutional grounds. The court ruled that the vote was not in violation of the constitution and the ballot should go ahead as planned. The ruling was welcomed by political parties.

The first stage of the two-stage poll will include 14 governorates: Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, New Valley, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, Red Sea, Alexandria, Beheira and Marsa Matrouh, with 284 seats up for grabs.

Last week the NEA announced that the papers of 4,006 individual candidates and eight coalition lists had been accepted. After the Supreme Administrative Court finished settling appeals on Sunday the numbers were much the same, with about 2,000 individual candidates and two coalitions — the National Unified List and the Call of Egypt — competing for the first stage seats.

Youssef Al-Husseini, the spokesman of the Mostaqbal Watan Party-led National Unified List coalition, said in a TV interview that the coalition will stand in all four party list districts.

“As for Mostaqbal Watan itself, it will have individual candidates standing in all districts, and the coalition and individual candidates will comply with the campaigning rules issued by the NEA.

“The campaign will focus on social media and TV ads,” said Al-Husseini. He added that competition in the House of Representatives’ election will be completely different from the Senate poll, where the National Unified List won all party list seats unopposed.

“It will be a fierce battle, particularly among individual candidates, because citizens will have the chance to choose between candidates with different political backgrounds,” said Al-Husseini.

The pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party has been accused of replicating the one-party rule of president Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). Critics say that just like Mubarak’s NDP, businessmen are parachuted onto Mostaqbal Watan’s candidacy list in return for money.

“They pay because they believe that the Mostaqbal Watan list will win regardless,” said one critic. “And like Mubarak’s now defunct NDP, Mostaqbal Watan wants to completely monopolise political life.”

Hossam Al-Khouli, deputy chairman of Mostaqbal Watan, conceded in a TV interview that much of the party’s funding comes from businessmen.

“We accept the money to spend on the party, campaigning and on social care projects,” said Al-Khouli. “Businessmen and wealthy people, after all, are allowed to participate in politics though they cannot be allowed to monopolise the political scene.

“In fact, the party has members from all social classes, businessmen, university professors, school students, and those on limited incomes. We need money to spend on the party’s activities, social programmes and election campaigning, and it is true that most of this money comes from businessmen.”

Al-Khouli agreed that the NDP had monopolised political life at the expense of meaningful representation but insisted “we are different because we are coordinating with other political parties to fill the political vacuum which hit the country after two revolutions.

“The National Unified List led by Mostaqbal Watan includes 12 political parties, some of which are considered to be in the opposition.”

Al-Khouli drew attention to the fact that though Mostaqbal Watan was only founded in 2014 it managed, within six years, to become the most popular political party.

“We have exerted an enormous effort over the last six years. In 2015 we came second in terms of the number of parliamentary seats, and in 2020 we won a majority of seats in the Senate election.” Eighty per cent of the party’s members are young people who have worked hard on the ground to extend the party’s grassroots presence and network of offices across Egypt.”

El-Khouli, deputy chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, insists that “money alone does not build a strong political party.

“You need members and offices across Egypt in order to be able to become a credible party,” said Al-Khouli. He also argued that “it is important for Egypt to have a majority party in order to protect the state and prevent an extremist group like the Muslim Brotherhood from reaching power again”.

The Republican People’s Party, which is a member of the National List, is also busy preparing for the polls.

“We have 28 candidates on Mostaqbal Watan’s National Unified List, and 58 individual candidates,” said party head Hazem Omar.

He expects the competition in individual seats to be particularly fierce.

 “You will have nine individual candidates per district, and this will make for a tough election.”

The Free Egyptians Party, which won a majority of seats in 2015, is only fielding individual candidates. Party Chairman Essam Khalil is hopeful that they will be able to repeat the party’s 2015 performance when it won 65 seats.

The Tagammu Party is fielding just 16 individual candidates though Deputy Chairman Amina Al-Naqqash pointed out “we also have five candidates on the National Unified List.” She added that “the party’s candidates intend to hold public rallies while observing social distancing rules.”

Members of the leftist 25-30 bloc are only standing in individual seats. Group Spokesman Haitham Al-Hariri said it would be too costly to field candidates in the constituencies reserved for party lists.

The liberal Wafd Party, which only a month ago was plagued by internal rifts, says it will field individual candidates in a majority of governorates.

“The party will also have nine candidates on the National Unified List,” said Fouad Badrawi, the Wafd’s secretary-general. The Wafd, which won 39 seats in 2015, is due to hold its own elections in December to choose a new chairman.

Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party and a nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat, opted to withdraw from the election battle hours before the Supreme Administrative Court ordered that he be banned from participating.

The court went on to reject petitions seeking to disqualify Abdel-Rehim Ali, editor-in-chief of Al-Bawaba newspaper, and Medhat Al-Sherif, deputy chairman of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, from standing.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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