Wafd at the crossroads
Following its withdrawal from the parliamentary elections the Wafd Party's dilemma is to remain credible, writes Shaden Shehab
Before the parliamentary elections the political climate seemed favourable for the Wafd Party. A new, charismatic chairman, hundreds of new members, the regime's apparent desire to engineer for the international community a strong multi-party façade which excluded the Muslim Brotherhood made Wafdists optimistic that the party would come out of the elections with the lion's share of opposition seats. Within the Wafd there were even hopes that, after years of the National Democratic Party and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood being presented as the only alternatives, it could offer a third way.
That dream remains a long way off after just six of its 222 candidates managed to win seats, the same number as in the 2005 elections. After its drubbing in the first round, winning only two seats, the Wafd announced it would withdraw from Sunday's run-off.
Wafd Chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi, who had earlier predicted that the party would win a healthy number of parliamentary seats, said withdrawal from the second round was the only option given the extent of the irregularities that marred the first poll.
NDP candidates, he said, had flagrantly violated "presidential promise to have free and fair elections".
"In the absence of any credible supervision of the ballot fraud was rampant."
According to the Higher Election Commission (HEC) withdrawals must be announced 10 days ahead of the poll. Out of nine candidates whose names automatically went into a second round ballot, four Wafd candidates emerged victorious and must now decide whether or not to resign their seats.
The six winning candidates have so far refused to comply with the Wafd's Executive Committee's decision to withdraw, leaving party leaders with no choice but to expel them from the party.
"According to the party's statutes all members must abide by decisions made by the Executive Committee. If not then they will be immediately suspended," said Wafd spokesman Mohamed Mustafa Sherdi. Sherdi was due to compete in Sunday's run-off for Al-Manakh constituency in Port Said.
Coincidence or not, the four run-off candidates that announced before Sunday that they would not withdraw or resign if they won were the once who succeeded, while the remaining five candidates, some of whom made an appearance in their constituencies on the run-off election day, made it clear that they would not be taking their seats should they win.
Party figures who lost include Mona Makram Ebeid, the party's Secretary-General Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, Deputy Chairman Fouad Badrawi, former firebrand MP Alaa Abdel-Moneim, business tycoon Rami Lakah, popular actress Samira Ahmed, former football player Taher Abu Zeid and Sherdi.
So what next for the party?
"We will continue to take part in the political process. We don't have to be in the People's Assembly to make an impact," said Secretary-General Abdel-Nour. "In the coming period we have no option but to question the legitimacy of the newly elected parliament."
El-Badawi announced that the party was appealing to President Hosni Mubarak and would forward a dossier it had compiled of all the incidents of fraud that occurred on election day.
The dossier contains documents, videos and photographs documenting violations of election rules together with policy recommendations prepared by legal and constitutional experts.
Before the elections the Wafd refused to heed calls by Mohamed El-Baradei to boycott the poll. On 17 September the Wafd's General Assembly voted 56.7 per cent in favour of participation.
The Wafd had initially joined three other opposition parties -- the Tagammu, Nasserist and the Democratic Front -- to form the Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP) which raised the slogan "No elections without guarantees". Yet when the NDP refused to provide the guarantees the coalition had demanded, with the exception of the Democratic Front, all CEOP members decided to take part in the poll anyway. "We have to take part to stand against the NDP and expose any irregularities," the Wafd Party leader said. "It would be political suicide to boycott."
So why is it no longer suicidal?
"We took part and exposed to the world the fraud and political charade," says Sherdi. "It was an active rather than a passive decision."
Abdel-Nour insists boycotting the run-off "is an issue of principle, respecting the parties' values and principles and showing the world we are not part of this unfair game."
"The Wafd," says political science professor Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed, "can still minimise its losses." He argues that it should make annulling the People's Assembly its mission.
On Saturday the Supreme Administrative Court said the parliamentary elections should be considered null and void after the HEC deliberately ignored rulings passed by the administrative judiciary. Ahead of the polls, which started on 28 November, the Administrative Court ordered a halt to elections in dozens of constituencies after earlier rulings obliging the HEC to add the names of more than 300 candidates who had been excluded from candidate lists were ignored.
A second option, says El-Sayed, is for the Wafd to join forces with the Muslim Brotherhood and other civil movements.
And next year's presidential election?
"It is hard to decide now but boycotting it is a strong possibility," says Sherdi.
Although an advocate of secularism the Wafd entered into an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood ahead of the 1984 elections. The only opposition party to gain representation, the coalition won 57 seats. The Wafd emerged from the 1987 election having lost its status as the leading opposition force in the People's Assembly. It managed to win just 35 seats compared to the 60 grabbed by the Labour-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. Along with other opposition parties -- with the exception of the Tagammu -- the Wafd boycotted the 1990 elections. When it re-entered the fray in 1995 it won just five seats, in 2000 seven and in the 2005 elections six.
El-Sayed said that the Wafd has the financial resources and media clout -- El-Badawi owns Al-Hayat satellite TV -- to pressure the regime.
"The Wafd will have to demonstrate that at one of the most important periods in Egypt's recent political history it can make a difference. It has a chance to do so. If it doesn't take it, the party will be the loser."