Who's in, who's out?
Gamal Essam El-Din
wonders what recent announcements to the effect that unpopular MPs will be excluded from the NDP's future candidate list really mean
The ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections intensified this week. NDP Chairman President Hosni Mubarak met with Secretary- General Safwat El-Sherif on Monday to review the party's initial list of candidates and its draft platform for the People's Assembly poll scheduled in October. According to El-Sherif, "the meeting with Mubarak was aimed at putting the final touches on the NDP's political roadmap ahead of the parliamentary elections".
The party's main focus, he said, is to review the performance of all its deputies from the outgoing 2005-2010 parliament. "In light of the review, and supplemented by opinion polls, a final list of candidates will be drawn up and submitted to President Hosni Mubarak for approval."
In a meeting with young party members at Abu Qir Camp, west of Alexandria, on 19 July, El-Sherif announced that the NDP would refuse to field candidates who did not enjoy the full confidence of the public.
Popularity, good reputation and a proven track record in the 2005 to 2010 parliament would all be considered in deciding which sitting NDP MPs should stand. "We will respect the people's wishes and never select a candidate whose performance in parliament has been rejected by public opinion," said El-Sherif.
El-Sherif made his comments as Prosecutor- General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud continued investigations into a growing medical care scandal. A number of NDP deputies have been charged with plundering state funds intended to provide free medical treatment to their poorest constituents. NDP MPs are accused of manipulating the free healthcare system to serve personal interests. Shamseddin Anwar, an NDP MP from the Nile-Delta governorate of Beheira, is accused of obtaining more than 20 free medical care approvals from the Ministry of Health (MH), worth LE50 million, which the Central Auditing Agency (CAA) says he then passed on to relatives and other associates.
"MH approvals are intended to offer poor citizens treatment for serious ailments like hepatitis and renal failure. They were used by Anwar to cover expensive plastic surgery and laser eyesight correction operations," claims independent MP Mustafa Bakri.
Bakri says he has prepared a list of 27 NDP MPs implicated in the scandal, which was uncovered just a few days after the final session of the 2005 to 2010 parliament. It has embarrassed senior NDP officials. Forced on the back foot, they argue that the investigation of so many of its MPs shows the party's determination to battle corruption.
NDP insiders believe the cull of sitting MPs will extend beyond those involved in the medical care scandal.
"El-Sherif's statement was quite clear. Deputies whose behaviour has courted public anger will be excluded from the list of official candidates in the upcoming elections," says Mohamed Ragab, NDP Shura Council spokesman and a member of its secretariat-general.
"A number of NDP business MPs face prosecution on corruption and criminal charges. Others have exchanged insults with opposition MPs in the chamber. All of this will be taken into account when evaluating the performance of MPs."
Three prominent NDP businessmen have appeared in the courts. Hani Sorour, accused of manufacturing sub-standard medical equipment, was acquitted of the charge two weeks ago. Khaled Salah, NDP MP for the Cairo district of Zawaya Hamra, was found guilty of smuggling mobile phones into Egypt. Emad El-Galada is currently facing trial on charges of bribing Ministry of Petroleum officials in an attempt to secure classified information.
"Our deputies generally did an excellent job," said El-Sherif. "NDP policies, and the performance of its deputies in parliament, helped Egypt ride out the worst effects of the global economic slowdown and achieve higher growth rates."
Although the final list of NDP candidates has still to be determined, some names are guaranteed to appear. They include Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People's Assembly since 1990. Sorour, 78, is a member of NDP's politburo and is expected to retain his position as parliamentary speaker. He is certain to be joined by Zakaria Azmi, 74, an NDP MP since 1987, chief of President Mubarak's staff since 1989, and the party's secretary-general assistant for financial and administrative affairs, and member of the NDP's politburo Kamal El-Shazli, 76, a long-term NDP deputy who underwent surgery in the US last February.
The list will also include Abdel-Ahad Gamaleddin, NDP spokesman in the outgoing parliament; Hussein Megawer, chairman of the General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (GEFTU), and Mustafa El-Said, a former minister of economy and a Cairo university professor. Megawer and El-Said are chairmen of parliament's Labour and Economic Affairs Committees respectively. Hamdi El-Sayed, chairman of the Doctors' Syndicate and head of parliament's Health Committee, will also stand.
Hamdi El-Tahan, chairman of parliament's Transport and Telecommunications Committee, announced last week that he would be stepping down as an MP. El-Tahan has been critical of the performance of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, He has accused the government of lacking "a crisis management" strategy and has argued repeatedly that parliament lacks the legislative and supervisory powers necessary to hold the government to account for its actions.
In the 2005 elections the NDP fielded around 100 businessmen candidates, of whom 68 won seats. Those likely to be engaged for a repeat performance include steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, NDP secretary for organisational affairs and chairman of parliament's Budget Committee; Mohamed Abul-Enein, a member of the NDP's secretariat-general and chairman of parliament's Industrial Committee; and Tarek Talaat Mustafa, chairman of parliament's Housing Committee and the brother of Hisham Talaat Mustafa, the former Shura Council appointee currently facing trial on murder charges.