Al-Ahram Weekly Online
14 - 20 February 2002
Issue No.573
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Brothers cold-shoulders municipal poll

The Muslim Brotherhood will boycott April's municipal elections. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

The banned Muslim Brotherhood announced last week that it will not field candidates in April's municipal elections. The Brotherhood's spokesman, Ma'moun El-Hodeibi, in a statement issued on 6 February, said, "The Brothers are no longer concerned with contesting municipal elections. We have decided to boycott the elections for a number of reasons. These include the heavy- handed intervention by security forces in the second and third stages of parliamentary elections in 2000 and in last year's ludicrous Shura Council mid- term elections, not to mention last month's legislative amendment, which limited judicial supervision of municipal elections."

El-Hodeibi's statement predicted that partial judicial supervision would result in unfair elections. "For these reasons, none of the Brotherhood's members will be interested in participating in this comedy," El-Hodeibi said.

The Brotherhood's decision to boycott municipal elections, held every six years, took many observers by surprise because of the organisation's strong showing in municipal elections up until 1990. Rumours had abounded that the Brothers were secretly negotiating with opposition parties to join forces for competing in the elections against the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

The Brotherhood's 17 People's Assembly deputies in early January had led the opposition to the NDP-proposed legislative amendment to limit judicial supervision of municipal elections. As a result of the amendment, judges will oversee voting at only the 274 principal polling stations, leaving the 45,000 auxiliary polling stations to the supervision of public sector and municipal authority employees. Brotherhood MPs criticised the amendment as being directed at intimidating the Brotherhood from fielding candidates in the municipal elections. Opposition and independent MPs rallied behind Brotherhood deputies, arguing that the amendment is unconstitutional.

During the parliamentary debate on the amendment, NDP leaders and Justice Minister Farouk Seifel-Nasr said that article 88 of the constitution, which stipulates that general elections are to be fully supervised by the judiciary, does not apply to elections for local councils.

Gamal Heshmat, a prominent Brotherhood MP, told Al-Ahram Weekly that his organisation is considering filing an appeal with the Supreme Constitutional Court against the amendment. Heshmat said that the government's justification for the amendment neglected the fact that local councils are similar to the People's Assembly and Shura Council by virtue of their supervisory powers. On that basis, Heshmat argued that the municipal elections should also be entitled to full judicial supervision.

Heshmat said that the law regulating the performance of local councils (law no 43 of 1979) clearly states that the councils are to exercise supervisory powers over provincial governors and officials working in local council units. "So, we have strong reasons to believe that the Supreme Constitutional Court could order full judicial supervision of municipal elections," he asserted.

Heshmat argued that full judicial supervision of municipal elections is necessary to help reinvigorate local councils so that they are better able to fight local corruption and promote democratisation on the local level.

Heshmat also implied that the government's invocation of article 88 of the constitution in making its case was somewhat disingenuous. He said that from September 1971, when the constitution was promulgated, through July 2000, the government had repeatedly insisted that article 88 does not stipulate full judicial supervision for general elections. He said, "On 8 July, however, the Supreme Constitutional Court stated that article 88 orders that general elections should be fully supervised by the judiciary. This contradicts the interpretation the government expounded for the past 30 years." Heshmat added, "It is regrettable that the government always gives itself the absolute right to interpret the constitution."

The Brotherhood has not won seats on local councils since 1990. In February 1996, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that a 1979 law regulating the role and elections of local councils was unconstitutional. By sanctioning a combination of the slate and individual candidacy system, the court ruled that the 1979 law discriminated against independent candidates. Elections were conducted under the individual candidacy system in late 1996, with the NDP winning more than 95 per cent of the seats.

Opposition parties are not expected to join the Muslim Brotherhood in their boycott. Khaled Mohieddin, leader of the leftist Tagammu Party, said that his party will field candidates for the municipal elections, but only in 10 per cent of constituencies. Noaman Gomaa, leader of the Wafd Party, said that his party will compete in at least 60 per cent of the constituencies. "We think this election is necessary to prepare us for the next parliamentary elections [scheduled for 2005]," Gomaa said.

The NDP will field 49,820 official candidates -- one for each seat. However, the number of NDP members who applied to be the party's official candidates exceeded 150,000. Those not running as official candidates are expected to run as independents.

Hussein Abdel-Razek, secretary of the Tagammu Party's political committee, commenting on the number of NDP members running, said, "This means that most of the competition will be between official NDP candidates and NDP-independents. This is against free competition and at the expense of opposition and truly independent candidates." Abdel-Razek also characterised last month's legislative amendment as "an early indicator that municipal elections will be rigged."

Kamal El-Shazli, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and NDP's assistant secretary-general, warned NDP members planning to run as independents that they will be dismissed from the party.

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