Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
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Independents rule the poll

By Gamal Essam El-Din

By the time candidate registration ended last week, the Interior Ministry had announced that 4,259 people planned to contest parliamentary elections due to begin on 18 October. The number of candidates later dropped to 4,116 after 143 applications for registration were rejected by the ministry. Other applications are expected to be rejected by a committee charged with the tedious task on Saturday. Moreover, other candidates are likely to reconsider and drop out of the election race.

While the number of candidates is an indicator of the heat of the elections, the participating political forces are also of crucial significance. The unprecedented number of independent candidates is viewed as a telling feature of Egypt's current political scene.

Among the 4,116 candidates, 3,240 hopefuls are independents, compared to 3,160 in 1995 and 1,800 in 1990. Political parties are represented by 876 candidates.

According to Salama Ahmed Salama, a prominent columnist with Al-Ahram newspaper, the growing number of independent candidates "shows that the democratisation process in Egypt is receding all the time. A significant mark of democratic systems is that the majority of candidates have partisan interests and affiliations and mainly depend for their success on the political parties to which they belong. In Egypt, however, candidates depend on their money for success and the individual candidacy system encourages the proliferation of this undemocratic phenomenon," wrote Salama. In Salama's view, voters are aware that the majority of independents are members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) appearing in different guise. "This tactic explains why turnout in elections dropped to low levels in recent years and why the domestic political scene was plagued with stagnation," said Salama.

Other analysts, however, attribute the rise in the number of independents to the recent crackdown on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist-oriented Labour Party whose candidates in 1995 totalled about 300. The Brotherhood is fielding 90 candidates running independently, and another 15 independents were fielded by Labour, which was frozen earlier this year.

As expected, the NDP outbid other parties and fielded the largest number of candidates, 448. This is higher by four than the number of seats up for grabs -- 444 -- because the NDP, due to tribal considerations, decided to nominate eight candidates, instead of four, in the northern governorate of Mersa Matruh.

Runner-up to the NDP was the liberal Wafd Party, which fielded 272 candidates, compared to 184 in 1995.

Attention is being focused on the types of candidates fielded by the NDP and the Wafd. A heated confrontation is expected between candidates of the two parties in a number of constituencies. Foremost is the expected confrontation between Kamal El-Shazli, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, and Wafdist multi-millionaire Mohamed Kamel in El-Menoufiya governorate's district of El-Bagour.

El-Shazli, who won the 1995 elections uncontested, will face this time an unprecedented number of 10 rivals, with Kamel the most serious contender among them. El-Shazli's political career largely depends on the El-Bagour parliamentary seat, which he has occupied for nearly 30 years. In a show of force and political clout, El-Shazli organised on Sunday a public rally, which was attended by Prime Minister Atef Ebeid, member of the NDP's general-secretariat Gamal Mubarak, five cabinet ministers, governors, MPs and journalists. Ebeid said he came to El-Bagour to launch a number of development projects and demonstrate support for the NDP candidate. For his part, Gamal Mubarak said that "some claim that imposing complete judicial supervision on the elections will not be in favour of the NDP. I'm sure, however, that the final result will be in favour of the NDP."

The leftist Tagammu and Nasserist parties fielded 52 and 45 candidates respectively. During a visit to Toshka project in the south-western desert on Tuesday, President Hosni Mubarak said that he is not worried that there will be a larger number of opposition and independent MPs in the next parliament. "This is in favour of democracy," said Mubarak.

Another significant feature of the approaching ballot is the relatively high number of Coptic and female candidates.

The number of Coptic candidates soared to 74, compared to 35 in 1995. Most of the Coptic hopefuls are running as independents and those representing political parties account for a mere 19. The increase in the number of Copts was hailed by analysts as an indication that they have begun to renounce political apathy and participate more actively, both as voters and candidates. The majority of Coptic candidates are businessmen.

The number of women candidates also increased. Out of 120, compared to 87 in 1995, political parties fielded 25, compared to 21 in 1995. This means that the majority are independents who lack the support of parties. And many have limited-salary jobs in municipal councils, government schools and public sector companies. Many also belong to relatively younger age categories, ranging from 40 to 45. In their campaigns, these women candidates focus on developing their neighbourhoods by raising the educational standard of citizens, wiping out illiteracy and providing financial support and medical services to the elderly and the poor.

Other women candidates have prestigious jobs. They work as lawyers, journalists, TV and radio announcers and academic researchers. These candidates are set to face fierce battles against business tycoons in Alexandria, Cairo, Daqahliya, Gharbiya and Port Said.


Related stories:
Election fever 28 Sep. - 4 Oct. 2000
Last call 21 - 27 September 2000
Parliament with a difference? 31 August - 6 September 2000
See Elections 2000, the 1995 Elections

 

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