Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Gearing up for the polls

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s ratification of the electoral constituencies law has paved the way for parliamentary polls to be held in the first quarter of 2015 and shifted preparations into higher gear, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a meeting with Foreign Minister of Spain Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo on 27 December, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi confirmed that the country’s parliamentary polls would be held in the first quarter of 2015.

Al-Sisi’s confirmation came a few days after he ratified a new electoral constituencies law, signalling the beginning of the long-awaited parliamentary polls process and representing the last part of the political roadmap adopted after the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Minister of Transitional Justice and House of Representatives Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi told reporters that Al-Sisi’s ratification of the law on 22 December had eliminated the last obstacle standing in the way of the country’s parliamentary polls.

“The law is in its final form, and it is up to the Higher Elections Commission (HEC) — a seven-member judicial body mandated with supervising the polls — to proceed with the poll’s final preparations,” he said.

Al-Heneidi added that “Al-Sisi’s ‎ratification of the law has put an end to the president’s role in ‎this respect. The next stage will be the ‎responsibility of the HEC, which will meet to announce the poll’s procedures.”‎

Although Al-Heneidi refused to speculate about when registration for the polls would begin, he said it was expected to take off in January and last for a week or ten days.

Al-Heneidi said the HEC might decide to hold the polls over two or three stages, with each stage including a number of governorates. ‎This would mean that the voting process could last anywhere between one and ‎two months.

Other informed sources said final procedures for the polls, including registration and campaigning, could begin in January and last for one month or more. “This will make the first stage of the vote begin before the international conference on Egypt’s economy is held next March,” an informed source said.

Many expect that the HEC will hold a press conference in the next few days to announce the final timetable. HEC spokesperson Medhat Idris said last week that “the timetable will include the dates for registration, campaigning, appeals and stages of the vote.”

He explained that “once the HEC sets a date for registration and voting the door for any changes in the voter lists will be closed.”

The HEC is headed by chairman of Cairo’s Appeal Court Ayman ‎Abbas and includes the senior deputies of the chairmen of the courts of cassation, the supreme constitutional court, and the state council‎. 

According to Rifaat Qomsan, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s ‎advisor for political affairs, the number of people eligible to vote ‎in the upcoming parliamentary polls stands at 54.8 million. ‎‎”This is out of a total population of 87.8 ‎million,” Qomsan said.‎

“The parliamentary polls, like the presidential polls last May, will be ‎heavily guarded by security and army forces and they are set to be a great success,” he added.

On 27 December, the HEC said that international NGOs wishing to participate in monitoring the parliamentary polls should apply soon. However, the HEC has said that NGOs will be required to meet a number of conditions in order to be granted licences to observe the polls.

One of these, said Idris, was that they should have a proven track record of neutrality and professionalism in monitoring polls.

He said that a committee affiliated with the HEC’s secretariat-general would take charge of receiving NGO applications to check they met the required conditions.

Idris also explained that the licensed NGOs would not be allowed to interfere with the voting process. “They will be allowed to observe the procedures of registration, campaigning, and voting, but not to be involved in any practices that might impact the polls,” Idris said.

NGOs will not be allowed to conduct opinion polls or to announce any results before they are officially announced by the HEC. Local or foreign NGOs will be allowed to prepare reports about the election process to be submitted to the HEC, however.

Some NGOs have complained that the HEC’s conditions are stricter than earlier thought. Mohamed Zarie, chairman of the Arab Organisation for Criminal Reform, told Al-Ahram that “the condition that NGOs must have a proven track record strips newly-formed civil society organisations of applying to observe the polls.”

“The HEC’s insistence that the role of licensed NGOs will be confined to following up, rather than monitoring, the polls does not give the NGOs a free and effective hand. We had high hopes that after the new constitution had given NGOs a prominent role in public life the HEC would give greater facilities for civil society organisations in areas of human rights and observing polls,” Zarie said.

Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), told the Weekly that “the stipulations prescribed for NGOs are the same as were adopted during the presidential polls last May.”

“We hope the HEC will allow as many NGO observers as possible to participate in monitoring the parliamentary polls because these are potentially more difficult than the presidential polls,” he argued, explaining that “in parliamentary polls, you have a lot of districts and a lot of candidates and all these must be covered by an adequate number of independent monitors.”

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party and an NGO activist, urged the HEC to open the door for NGO applications for as long a period as possible. “This will help as many local and foreign NGO observers as possible to participate in monitoring the polls,” he said.

“It is very important that foreign NGOs like the US Jimmy Carter Centre observe the parliamentary polls,” al-Sadat said, adding that “as long as we want transparent polls, we must allow as many foreign NGOs as possible to participate.”

The Jimmy Carter Centre decided last October to close its office in Cairo on the grounds that “the political environment in Egypt has become deeply polarised and the political space has narrowed for Egyptian political parties, civil society, and the media.”

There were reports last week that the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies, an NGO founded by prominent sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim, is currently in negotiations with the Jimmy Carter Centre in order to exercise a supervisory role during the parliamentary elections.

Mohamed Fayek, chairman of the National Council for Human Rights, told a television interview on Saturday that “the HEC must have no fears about foreign monitoring and we have urged it to allow the largest possible number of NGOs to participate.”

Idris said that the HEC’s secretariat-general was coordinating with the ministries of justice, administrative development, local development, interior, planning and education to work out the final details of the upcoming polls.

“Before we announce a timetable for the polls, we want to make sure that the polling stations are ready for the vote and that the judges entrusted with taking charge of the supervision are also available,” Idris said, indicating that having an exact number of the polling stations would help the HEC to determine whether the polls should be held over two or three stages.

After a six-month wait, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi eliminated the last obstacle standing in the way of the country’s parliamentary polls. On 21 December and before he leaves for China, Al-Sisi ratified a long-awaited electoral constituencies law, a step signalling the beginning of the parliamentary polls process.

In their reaction, Egypt’s political parties agreed that the final ratification of the law had shifted preparation for the country’s parliamentary polls into higher gear.

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the upcoming parliamentary polls would be unique in two respects.

“No single party will be able to compete alone in these polls and no single party will be able to gain majority,” al-‎Sadat said, arguing that “after the new constitution and the House of Representatives laws were passed, the political parties came to realise that they would have to join forces in electoral blocs in order to be able to gain a foothold in the coming parliament.”

Al-Sadat said that most of the electoral alliances that had ‎so far been formed had already prepared their lists of candidates. Al-Sadat’s Reform and Development Party is a member of an electoral coalition led by the liberal Wafd Party.

Hossam Al-Khouli, a spokesperson for the Wafd Party, announced on 26 December that the Wafd-led coalition would field candidates in almost all constituencies. “We have been working for months to prepare the lists of candidates and we hope we will be able to gain a considerable number of seats in the new parliament,” Al-Khouli said.

He also indicated that the electoral bloc of the Wafd, which includes six political parties, had decided in a meeting on Friday to coordinate with the Al-Tagammu, Congress and Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) parties and with Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, a university professor and coordinator of the revolutionary Kifaya Movement.

“We are ready to join forces with any political forces that prove loyal to the ideals of the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June,” Al-Khouli said, arguing that “the main objective behind these electoral movements is to draw up nationwide lists of candidates that can gain the votes of millions of Egyptians.”

Al-Khouli said that the Friday meeting had rejected any coordination with Kamal Al-Ganzouri, a Mubarak-era prime minister. “It would not be acceptable for the lists of the Wafd electoral bloc to be put at the mercy of such a public figure,” Al-Khouli said.

Abdel-Gelil Mustafa said he was preparing lists of candidates drawn from the revolutionary electoral alliance entitled the Democratic Current. He said a greater alliance including all revolutionary forces would be created under the title of the Reawakening of Egypt.

The Democratic Current includes a mix of liberal and leftist forces antagonistic to the two former regimes of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mustafa indicated that coordination with the Wafd-led coalition had been initiated upon the request of the Wafd and not vice versa. “In any case, the coordination is based upon a single platform: a strong belief in the ideals of the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions and in the new constitution passed in a public referendum last January.”

 “I want to make it clear that it was the Wafd which sought coordination with us and not vice versa, but at the end of the day we all want the country’s roadmap, adopted after the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, to move forward and that the two Revolutions not be hijacked by the diehards of the former Mubarak and Muslim Brotherhood regimes,” Mustafa said.

In addition to the Wafd and Mustafa’s alliance, an electoral bloc led by remnants of former president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) announced that it would also field candidates in all districts, aiming to compete strongly in the polls.

Mustafa Bakri, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Front Electoral ‎Coalition, which includes many former Mubarak officials, said the Front would have its own lists of candidates. “But we will also be in coordination with former prime minister Al-Ganzouri in terms of fielding lists of party-based candidates,” Bakri said, adding that the Front would try its best to woo the Al-Tagammu, Congress and Al-Ghad Parties back into its fold.

According to Bakri, the three political parties decided last week to withdraw from the Front after they voiced their rejection of coordination with Al-Ganzouri.

Bakri told the Weekly that the Front’s main goal was to win as many independent seats as possible. “We hope that out of a total of 420 independent seats at stake, the Front will be able to win at least 350,” he said.

He expected the number of independent candidates competing in the upcoming polls to be as high as 5,000, while the party-based candidates would not exceed 2,000.

The three political parties which have withdrawn from the Egyptian Front’s electoral coalition had left because they had discovered the presence of former Mubarak regime officials on the lists, said Salah Hassaballah, an official of the Congress Party.

Sayed Abdel-Aal, chairperson of Al-Tagammu, said that they had decided to withdraw after the Front had prioritised its coordination with Al-Ganzouri at the expense of his party and the Congress and Al-Ghad parties.

By contrast, the Free Egyptians Party, founded by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it was in coordination with Al-Ganzouri. “As we and Al-Ganzouri stand on unified ideological grounds, it is only logical that we coordinate together,” said the party’s spokesperson Shehab Wagih.

Revolutionary parties that came into being in the wake of the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions announced last October that they would stand together as the Democratic Current Alliance. George Ishak, a leading official of the alliance, announced on Sunday that it was coordinating with Mustafa to form unified lists of party-based and independent candidates.

Ishak appealed to all the revolutionary forces to unite against the “onslaught” of Mubarak’s NDP and other parties that used to act as “political cover for the Mubarak regime.”

Political analysts agree that the country’s political parties have resorted to forming electoral alliances out of the recognition that no single party can achieve a majority in the polls.

“With the Muslim Brotherhood banned and designated a terrorist organisation and Mubarak’s NDP dissolved by the courts, these political parties have found themselves face to face with the challenge of securing a majority in parliament,” said Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science at Suez Canal University and a former independent MP.

According to Zahran, himself a leader of the so-called Social Justice Coalition, “the coming polls will involve four main competing forces: the liberal Wafd with other old-guard political parties, the Mubarak regime’s diehards (either members of the Egyptian Front or independents), revolutionary forces that are antagonistic to both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Mubarak regimes, and the remnants of the Islamist forces, particularly the ultra-conservative Salafist Al-Nour party.”

Zahran was sure that no single coalition would be able to gain a majority in the new parliament. “But my hope is that the Mubarak diehards and Islamists will be marginalised in favour of a secular majority that can form the first post-constitution elected government,” he said.

He argued that “if the opposite takes place, I mean if Mubarak’s NDP diehards — including wealthy businessmen that were close to his son and heir apparent Gamal — were able to dominate the parliament, it would be a catastrophe for the country’s political future.”

In an interview with the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram on 30 December, Al-Sisi said that although some political parties had expressed reservations over the new electoral constituencies law, it remained a very important step forward.

 “After this step I have high hopes that the political parties will be able to select the best type of candidates and allow young people to gain greater representation in the coming parliament,” Al-Sisi said, also indicating that as the constitution granted him the right to appoint five per cent of MPs, he had decided that the lion’s share of the presidential appointees would be allocated to women and young people.

add comment

  • follow us on