Grandstanding or boycott?
Whichever occurs, the NDP will win most seats in the Shura Council mid-term elections, writes Gamal Essam El-Din
President Hosni Mubarak is expected to call mid-term Shura Council elections today. The poll, which will probably be held on 14 June, covers 24 of Egypt's 26 governorates with 88 seats in 67 districts up for grabs. An additional 44 members of the 264-seat Shura Council will be appointed by presidential decree.
On Saturday, Mubarak ordered the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to establish a steering committee for the election campaign. Headed by NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif, it includes a mix of new- and old-guard officials. Among the former are Gamal Mubarak, President Mubarak's son and chair of the NDP's Policies Committee, Ahmed Ezz, business tycoon and chair of the Organisational Affairs Committee and Alieddin Hilal, the NDP's Secretary for Mass Media Affairs. Old guard members include Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, Zakaria Azmi, chief of the presidential staff and Mohamed Dakrour, the NDP's secretary for ethics.
The committee, says El-Sherif, will oversee the setting up of the electoral colleges that will select potential candidates. "The colleges will comprise 13,000 leading NDP members in the provinces who will be tasked with assessing the suitability of candidates." El-Sherif further revealed that 750 party members had registered for consideration as candidates, including businessmen, former MPs and members of local city councils.
The final decision on who will represent the party, though, rests with the steering committee, with the final list of candidates endorsed by President Mubarak in his capacity as NDP chairman. They will stand, said El-Sherif, on a platform based on Mubarak's 2005 presidential election programme which "calls for more economic and political reform while guaranteeing such reform does not come at the expense of the poor and those on limited-incomes".
The NDP's preparations for the mid- term poll are unlikely to be replicated by opposition parties. The liberal-oriented Wafd and the Arab Nasserists have already said they will not be fielding candidates. On Monday, Al-Wafd leader Mahmoud Abaza said his party's decision to boycott Shura Council elections was a result of the conduct of last March's constitutional amendments.
"These amendments," said Abaza, "created a negative climate and made it even more difficult for a poll characterised by integrity and transparency to be held."
Diaaeddin Dawoud, leader of the Nasserist Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, "the constitutional amendments, especially to Article 88 which eliminate full judicial supervision, make staging free and fair elections impossible."
"What is the use of elections when the results are a foregone conclusion," asked Dawoud.
The NDP, says Dawoud, by tailoring the constitutional amendments and election law in its own favour is simply storing up trouble for the future. "We want to send a message to the NDP that it does not need any more problems. If it wants to win every seat in an election, if it is unwilling to face any fair competition from the opposition, then so be it."
While the leftist Tagammu Party, according to Secretary-General Hussein Abdel-Razeq, is not in favour of fielding candidates, the final decision "will be left up to members".
Abdel-Razeq expects the vote will essentially be between official NDP candidates and NDP members running as independents. "This is a scenario the NDP has always liked and one that has undermined political life and left citizens totally apathetic about elections."
Al-Ghad Party, led by jailed politician Ayman Nour, surprised observers when it announced it would be fielding more than 25 candidates. Gamila Ismail, Nour's wife, said the majority of party candidates will run in Cairo, with Ismail herself expected to contest Cairo's Gammaliya district.
The biggest challenge facing the NDP, however, comes from the banned Muslim Brotherhood which last month said it intended to field up to 20 candidates. Mohamed Habib, the group's deputy supreme guide, said the Brotherhood was determined to field candidates despite the government's harsh crackdown on its activities and the arrest of many leading members.
While Habib insisted the group would always favour participation over boycott it has yet to announce the names of its candidates.
"To do so would act to turn them into a target for the security forces and allow hurdles to be placed before them as they try to register their candidacy," said Habib.
Brotherhood leaders insist their slogan in the campaign will, as usual, be "Islam is the solution" and during this week's parliamentary debates on the new political rights law, Brotherhood MPs were vociferous in their attacks against Article 3 which empowers the Supreme Electoral Commission to prohibit the use of religious slogans in elections. Indeed, candidates who do raise religious slogans are likely to be barred from the poll and prevented from standing in future elections.
Brotherhood MP Hussein Ibrahim argues the ban on religious slogans is in violation of Article 2 of the constitution which states that Islamic Sharia is the major source of legislation.
Justice Minister Mamdouh Marei, meanwhile, has affirmed that all political slogans drawing on religion will be strictly prohibited. "This does not violate Article 2 but affirms that the state is keen that elections do not become a battleground in which politics are mixed with religion in contravention of the newly amended Article 5 of the constitution." (see p.4)