Elections: why bother?
By Salama A Salama
The presidential elections campaign has started, albeit unofficially. As President Hosni Mubarak toured various projects in the south and north of the country, he called on other parties to get ready for the elections. Thus Mubarak has intimated, without saying it, that he will run for elections. The National Democratic Party (NDP) is yet to declare its candidate for 2011.
Many NDP leaders deem it improper to speak about the party's candidate for the next elections. "It is not right to allocate the inheritance while the man is alive," they seem to think. This thought that governing is an inheritance and not a responsibility, which some people subscribe to, is flawed. In democracy, power rotates and candidates vie for the post while the candidate is still in office.
It is customary in the pluralistic regimes of the West for parties to name candidates and start campaigning months before elections, even a year, more perhaps. In the recent French elections, Sarkozy declared himself a candidate even before the incumbent, Jacques Chirac, decided whether to run or retire. Obama, to give another example, campaigned for two years with Bush in office.
The normal thing is for the race to begin while the president is still in office. Likewise, it is normal for parliamentary campaigns to begin months before the elections, for this allows time for candidates to connect with the party supporters and appeal to the electorate at large. Perhaps this is what Mubarak meant when he urged opposition parties to get ready for the presidential elections. True, the opposition parties need to get organised, publicise their programmes, and agree on presidential and parliamentary candidates.
The strange thing is that the NDP hasn't yet declared its presidential candidate, and perhaps hasn't even agreed on its parliamentary candidates. This being the case, how can it ask other parties to get ready? Appearances suggest that the election campaign has begun and that President Mubarak is the NDP candidate. Appearances also suggest that the NDP is not declaring its candidate because it is certain of victory, because it knows it can level the ground and remove any obstacles on the way.
The opposition parties are equally coy. Once the enthusiasm for outside candidates -- such as Ahmed Zuweil, Mohamed El-Baradei and Amr Moussa -- abated, a television programme sought to explore the intentions of the top three opposition parties. As it turned out, the Tagammu didn't seem interested in campaigning at all. The Wafd and Nasserist parties maintained silence throughout, apparently bidding their time until the NDP declares its intentions.
One sign that the elections campaign is about to start is the sudden detention campaign of Muslim Brotherhood members. The word on the street is that the government gave the Brotherhood three months to conduct their elections. And once the general guide was named, the government ordered the clampdown.
The detentions are meant not just to stop Brotherhood members from contesting the parliamentary elections, but also to hamper their movement and obstruct any possible alliance between them and opposition parties. In other words, the arrests are meant to help the NDP cruise to victory with no opposition to mention.
The NDP doesn't care if large sections of the population are excluded from political participation. It doesn't care if the elections are described as free and fair or as fraudulent and rigged. In this country, elections don't pay heed to internationally accepted standards. This is why the government has cleansed the National Council for Human Rights of its liberal members, thus turning it into a government subsidiary, making it easier to hold elections, with or without opposition parties.