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2 - 8 November 2000
Issue No. 506
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Electioneering's new face

By Tarek Atia

According to El-Sayed Eleiwa, a political science professor who runs a campaign consultancy office in Nasr City, "new technologies and fierce competition for seats have inspired a new level of campaigning" in this year's elections for the People's Assembly.

The fray involves approximately 4,200 candidates, 80 per cent of whom are independent, meaning they do not have a political party as a support base for their campaign. This has inspired people to use newer, more forceful electioneering approaches.

In the old days, campaigning was all about personal visits and the zaffa (procession) through the streets of the district candidates were running in. But now, even in the Nile Delta, in Upper Egypt and in smaller cities, new techniques are being used to solicit votes. Candidates are handing out t-shirts, school bags and hats bearing their names and message, using the Internet and hot air advertising balloons and taping themselves talking about their election platforms and distributing the videotapes amongst their constituents.

How much are the candidtes spending on their campaigns? Despite the overwhelming number of posters, billboards and cloth banners in the street, the actual amount being spent is probably far less than has been rumoured
photos: Mustafa El-Senousi and Abdel-Hamid Eid

One notable change this year, Eleiwa says, "is a more intensive use of photos in all campaign materials." This has not signified a more daring use of pictures. Aspirants still use the same old stilted shots -- tiny passport photos that are either blown up and printed on billboards, posters and brochures, or an artist's sketch. Eleiwa thinks that, in the future, we may see pictures of a different kind -- of candidates with their families, or playing sports. But, for now, a candidate who would do so would be considered too divergent.

Tareq Kamal, whose advertising firm undertook a great deal of election campaign business this year, agrees that there is still very little creativity involved in the design of campaign ads. Kamal's firm ran an ad in the papers a few months ago promoting a new machine designed to print photographs on cloth. The technology came in handy because it was a perfect mix of old and new. Traditionally, candidates like to use cloth banners because they are cheap and do not require hefty frames to set up.

Among Kamal's clients were Ahmed Abu Zeid of Ismailia, Tareq El-Botali of Assiut, Abul-Wafa El-Umda of Alexandria and Adel El-Gogari of Mansoura. The fact that many of them are not from Cairo proves Eleiwa's point about the spread of new methods of campaigning, even outside the capital.

Despite the government's announcement of strict measures against the unauthorised placement of posters and stickers in public places (Cairo governorate announced it would be sending out 29 teams of inspectors to enforce this), posters were still stuck everywhere you turned.

Some of the posters remain very un-PR savvy, with the candidate's platform written in very small print and the poster hung up on a highway. Virtually impossible to read, driving by at 90 kilometres per hour.

Figures for the money being spent on campaigns are very hard to pinpoint. Al-Mussawar magazine claimed that the leftist Tagammu Party was spending a sum of LE300,000 on advertising for its candidates and that the liberal Wafd was spending between LE5,000 and LE10,000 on each of its more promising candidates. The magazine placed the total amount spent on campaigning this year at a staggering LE5 billion, as opposed to the estimated LE3 billion in the last elections of 1995.

Eleiwa said businessmen running for parliament spent LE200,000 on average on their campaigns and that some campaigns have gone over LE1 million. He estimates that a total figure in the neighbourhood of LE2 billion (not all in cash, some in the form of volunteer efforts and donations) is being spent by all the candidates running for office.

"Although some people are annoyed by this," Eleiwa noted, "I see it as a productive force in the national economy, especially if it results in the election of responsible parliament members."

Eleiwa sees campaigning as a valuable way to boost the "empowerment and enlightenment of the people". In any case, he concludes, it's a good re-distribution of national income.

Advertiser Kamal thinks the prevalent rumours about campaign expenses are grossly exaggerated. "Even if a candidate gives every single voter a poster, a sticker and a cap, his total costs will never go beyond half a million," Kamal argues.

He breaks it down. "Say they make 20,000 four-colour posters costing around LE7,000, 500 large cloth billboards at LE100 each costing LE50,000 and 50,000 brochures for LE3,000. And even if he also buys five illuminated signs for LE2,000 each, that's another LE10,000. Say he's also giving away backpacks and other gifts for LE30,000. And no candidate does all of those things, or in such huge quantities." Kamal's imaginary spendthrift candidate would have spent around LE90,000.

How, then, do rumours get started about the millions candidates have spent on their campaigns? In Port Said, for instance, it was widely rumoured that candidate Ragab El-Shennawi spent over LE1.5 million. Needless to say, El-Shennawi lost. According to a banker in Port Said who has been following the campaign closely, "the advertising didn't help him because his platform was weak."


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