Desperately seeking the HEC
Opposition parties doubt the Higher Election Commission's ability to deliver a free and fair parliamentary poll, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP), which includes the Wafd, Tagammu, the Nasserist and the Democratic Front, had the Higher Election Commission (HEC) in its sights this week. In a conference hosted by the leftist Tagammu Party on 25 September opposition leaders lamented the absence of any clear role for the HEC in ensuring that the upcoming parliamentary elections are not rigged.
"Although the polls are just two months away the HEC has taken no action at all to ensure that they will be fair," said Tagammu leader Rifaat El-Said. "The HEC might as well be a secret organisation. No one knows where it is located. If you want to contact it no one can give you an address or a phone number, a fax or an e-mail."
El-Said also criticised officials from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). "The NDP's response to written demands by CEOP for greater election guarantees was," he noted, "unusually polite".
"The NDP thought it enough to call upon the government of Ahmed Nazif to act quickly to implement guarantees listed in the political rights law. In doing so it brushed off any responsibility for helping ensure the polls are fair, thus maintaining the upper hand."
"That the NDP says it sent a letter to the HEC concerning election guarantees is nothing but a joke. I for one would like to know where they sent it to."
Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, secretary- general of the Wafd Party, argued that "CEOP members made a mistake when they sent their request for greater election guarantees to NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif."
"They should have sent the document to President Hosni Mubarak in his capacity as head of the executive authority, to the speaker of the People's Assembly as head of the legislative authority, and to the HEC's chairman. Why address El-Sherif, who lacks any executive or legislative power?"
El-Said and Nour added that, in the absence of any way of contacting the HEC, on 21 September they were forced to publish an open letter to the body charged with supervising November's poll. "So far," said El-Said, "we have received no reply."
In response, the HEC issued a press release saying it had met on 27 September and under its head, chairman of Cairo's Appeal Court Mahmoud Talaat Moftah, was "working day and night, without media noise and fuss, to ensure that the vote runs smoothly".
According to the statement, "the HEC has already selected judicial officials to supervise the polls in each of Egypt's 29 governorates and to act as a channel between candidates and voters on one side and the HEC on the other."
"Rules regulating the role of civil society organisations in monitoring the vote and vote- counting operations," it added, "have already been prepared. A pamphlet containing guidelines about the upcoming polls will be sent to all political parties, press organisations, professional syndicates, universities and interested civil society organisations... In the next few days the HEC will meet to finalise regulations governing election campaigns and decide on ways to help party-based and independent candidates issue licences for their representatives to take part in supervising the polls."
Following a meeting on the same day the ruling NDP issued a statement disclosing that it had sent memos to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, HEC chairman Mahmoud Talaat Moftah, and to CEOP leaders concerning election guarantees.
"The memo explained how we see election guarantees provided by the constitution and the political rights being implemented to help ensure the integrity of the upcoming polls," read the statement.
"The ruling party appreciates the decision of most CEOP members not to take part in the election boycott," said El-Sherif. "Those who called for the boycott and seek to sow the seeds of sedition have lost ground. Their calls are false and disregard the constitution and legitimate authorities."
The political rights law stipulates that the HEC be composed of 11 members, seven judges supplemented by four public figures. The judges must include the chairman of Cairo Court of Appeals, who acts as HEC chairman; the chairman of Alexandria Court of Appeals; a deputy from the Court of Cassation; a deputy from the state Council and three senior judges.
Mohamed Kamal, chairman of the NDP's Indoctrination Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the NDP fully agrees with opposition parties that the HEC should begin to work out the guidelines necessary to ensure the polls run smoothly as soon as possible. "The NDP also believes that the HEC should have the financial, administrative and technical resources to exercise its roles effectively," said Kamal.