Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 -12 May 2004
Issue No. 689
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

NDP versus NDP -- yet again

Although this month's Shura elections will be almost void of any opposition candidates, NDP leaders say they are preparing themselves for a tough battle. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Registration for Shura Council's mid-term elections closed on Sunday with the number of candidates reaching a total of 541. According to Mahrous Shabayek, chairman of the Interior Ministry's Election Directorate, the door will be opened from 3 to 10 May for registered candidates to file appeals contesting the legality of each other's nomination. "Administrative courts will take charge of settling these appeals at the same time so that the final list of candidates would be available to the public well ahead of the mid-term elections scheduled from 23 May to 19 June," said Shabayek. Most of the appeals are expected to be filed upon grounds that some of the nominees have a dual nationality or had dodged military service.

Leading members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) said that in selecting its candidates, they made sure their names were thoroughly scrutinised to check for dual nationalities and the fulfilment of military service. Since the existing parliamentary session began in November 2003, the membership of as many as 20 NDP deputies in both the People's Assembly and Shura Council have been revoked upon grounds of failing to perform military service.

Out of the 541 candidates who registered for the Shura mid-term elections, 90 are on the NDP's official ticket. They will be running for 88 seats in 67 constituencies in 24 governorates (with the exception of Ismailia and the New Valley). Most of the remaining candidates are NDP members who decided to run independently against the party's 90 official candidates. As in previous elections, this will turn the Shura Council's mid-term elections into a battle between candidates officially fielded by the NDP against NDP members running independently after the NDP declined to nominate them. The NDP independent candidates are mostly former Shura or People's Assembly members or party members in local councils. Though NDP's secretariat-general threatened to dismiss all NDP members standing for election as independents from the party's ranks, the non-conforming members did not take the party's threats seriously. They are aware that all previous elections have ended up with the re-admission of the independents into the party's ranks.

In a meeting held by NDP's Higher Policy Council on 28 April, Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif surprised observers by stating that NDP is ready to face a tough battle in Shura mid-term elections. "The party will be mobilised in the next few days to ensure that the electioneering campaigns of its candidates are well organised and that the candidates perform well to gain most of the contested seats," El-Sherif said. According to El-Sherif, chairmen of the party's provincial offices will be required to mobilise their province's efforts in favour of the party's candidates. NDP's Assistant Secretary and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Kamal El-Shazli also contended that the party embraced all the measures necessary to make it the major winner of this month's Shura Council mid-term elections.

El-Sherif and El-Shazli's remarks were surprising to opposition parties who opted to boycott the Shura elections. Gamal Badawi, a prominent member of the liberal Wafd Party, said the Shura elections are always a no-contest battle. "As a rule, the opposition used to keep away from contesting the elections of this meaningless and indeterminate council. So, it is meaningless for one to hear that the NDP is bracing itself for a tough battle in a no-contest election," Badawi said. In this expected election romp, some of NDP's candidates are even expected to win unopposed. Some of them are Shura Council's Chairman Mustafa Kamal Helmi, Secretary-General of the Cabinet Safwat El-Nahhas and Minister of Waqf (religious endowments) Hamdi Zaqzouq.

Although major opposition parties said they would boycott the Shura poll, their leaders said they would not object that members of their parties contest the elections. They, however, stipulated that these members bear the full costs of their electioneering campaigns. Preliminary information shows that two members of the Wafd Party decided to run in Port Said Governorate, while a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Khaled El-Zaafarani, is challenging NDP's candidate in Alexandria's Montazah district. El-Zaafarani has been a frequent contender of elections, but has yet to win. The electoral districts of Shura Council are three times larger geographically than those of the People's Assembly, so opposition parties do not bother to undertake a futile, costly and burdensome battle for the sake of an "insignificant" consultative body. Most prefer that their energies be reserved to the People's Assembly elections which are scheduled on October 2005.

El-Sherif said the opposition parties are free to act on the "political street". "They must know that the emergency law is not enacted to restrict their performance. The emergency law is rather targeted at fighting terrorism like what we now see in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. This law is very important to safeguard the security of citizens and political parties," stressed El-Sherif.

He also argued that the ruling party is not aiming to dash any kind of dialogue with opposition parties. He said the national dialogue, whose initial phase was organised in the wake of NDP's second annual conference last September, will be resumed very soon.

In that phase, El-Sherif and El-Shazli met with chairmen of eight opposition parties, but without reaching any tangible results. They said at that time (last November) that they would convene a general meeting with chairmen of all legitimate parties to reach a consensus on all the issues proposed to be debated by the dialogue.

As a six-month period passed without this meeting taking place, the opposition parties said they are no longer interested in participating in this dialogue. Leaders of opposition parties said it is difficult for them to participate in a dialogue with a ruling party whose initiatives about political reform are too modest.

Hussein Abdel-Razeq, secretary-general of the leftist Tagammu Party, said while the opposition is keen to see the implementation of a sweeping political reform programme, the NDP is just interested in introducing modest and tailored amendments to laws regulating the performance of political parties (40/1977) and exercise of political rights (73/1956).

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