By Salama A Salama
No one is holding their breath as they await the results of Egypt's presidential race. Everything done so far, constitutional amendments and political reforms included, has been tailored to guarantee victory for the National Democratic Party's (NDP) candidate. The only thing that has aroused any speculation is the margin of the victory. Will the usual scenario be played out, with President Hosni Mubarak polling in the upper 90s, or will the figure be lower? And what of the turnout, which many expect to be around 20 per cent in urban areas and 40 per cent in the countryside?
The elections have at least exposed obvious shortcomings in the electoral process, particularly as regards voting lists. Many eligible voters are either not listed or do not have voting cards, a simple fact that even the candidates seem to have overlooked.
The last minute quarrel between the Administrative Court and the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) inevitably casts doubt on the procedural integrity of the race. The administrative court challenged the PEC on two counts: the legality of the Arab Socialist Egypt Party's candidate and the right of civil society groups to monitor the elections. The PEC found itself in yet another quandary. That its decisions have been made final, and cannot be subjected to legal appeals, has made many sceptical of the entire process.
Such loopholes could have been easily foreseen and closed. Constitutional experts pointed to the flaws early on but the powers that be refused to listen, preferring to act with the kind of heavy- handedness that tainted the amendment of Article 76 and the legislation that came in its wake. The stakes were high, the prize democracy, yet the reservations voiced by the country's finest legal minds and the simple demands of a civil society seeking to monitor the elections were ignored.
It's all a dress rehearsal for the real presidential race six years from now. The candidates this time round will soon discover that they have done the NDP a great favour by taking part in these elections. Their participation has lent a degree of credibility to the whole enterprise. Perhaps some of the candidates are seeking a reward for their efforts -- a little pat on the back in the coming parliamentary elections for example.
The absence of opinion polls before, during and after the elections may have fooled some candidates into believing they had a chance. Opinion polls are standard practice in modern democracies. Perhaps it is true that scientific opinion polls are inappropriate for a society that has never known free and fair elections before. Perhaps opinion polls sit uneasily with a leadership that remains afraid of the popular monitoring of elections. The absence of such polls, though, remains a significant omission.
The real worth of these elections has nothing to do with the search for the best man for the job. What we have just witnessed is a humble attempt to train the nation to choose and decide, to encourage people to think about their problems, stop trusting to fate and begin asking questions. And the whole exercise could still result in the dissipation of the myth of the benign despot that has for too long dogged our history and held us back. The success of these elections will be assessed in the light of the political and constitutional changes that follow. We have much mending to do, and the foundation s of a better future to lay.