Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Prepping the poll

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has vowed parliamentary elections will be fair but political parties are demanding stronger guarantees. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Sisi
Sisi
Al-Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary polls, scheduled between 21 March and 7 May, will be characterised by integrity and fairness, says President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

In meetings on Monday and Tuesday with the leaders of 21 political parties Al-Sisi said state authorities will remain impartial throughout the process.

Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, attended Monday’s meeting. According to Al-Sadat, “Al-Sisi underlined that the state would remain neutral during the ballot and that it was up to the Higher Election Committee (HEC), a purely judicial body, to supervise the polls.”

Despite such assurances, some parties worry that attempts are already underway to manipulate the elections. During one meeting Mohamed Abul Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, raised questions about the list of candidates being prepared by Mubarak-era prime minister Kamal Al-Ganzouri, who is acting as an economic advisor to Al-Sisi.

“It is widely believed that the state has encouraged Al-Ganzouri to compile a list of candidates who will dominate the coming parliament,” Abul-Ghar told Al-Sisi. He added that most political parties believe that stronger guarantees that the coming polls will be transparent are needed.

In response, said Abul-Ghar, Al-Sisi dismissed “reports that Al-Ganzouri is being used by the state to sweep the coming polls,” saying they are unfounded.

“I will announce publicly that the state does not have a list of preferred candidates and Al-Ganzouri is acting on his own,” said Al-Sisi. “I have also instructed all state authorities, including the police and army, to observe strict neutrality during the ballot.”

On Sunday the HEC announced that local and foreign NGOs wishing to monitor the polls will be able to apply for registration between 12 and 21 January. Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the timetable for registration gives plenty of time for “NGOs interested in recruiting large numbers of observers.”

“We asked for this and it is a good sign that the HEC has responded to our demands,” said Abu Seada.

On Tuesday the HEC declared that campaigning will begin as soon as the final list of candidates is announced and will continue until 21 March. HEC spokesman Medhat Idris also announced that a campaign spending ceiling of LE500,000 will apply to independent candidates. In the event of a run-off, a further LE200,000 can be spent on campaigning.

Abu Seada questioned whether the spending limits will be observed. “A number of businessmen are expected to run and they will be willing to spend upwards of LE10 million to secure a seat in parliament,” he warned. NGOs, he added, will do their best to detect any infringements of campaign rules.

Al-Sisi has urged political parties to forge strong electoral coalitions to ensure they gain a foothold in parliament.

“We want a strong and representative parliament,” said presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef. “The best way to ensure this happens is for political parties to establish alliances ahead of the polls.”

“Al-Sisi warned that just as people revolted on 30 June to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from office, they could also revolt against the new parliament if it falls short of representing their hopes,” said Sayed Abdel-Al, chairman of the Tagammu Party.

During his recent visit to Kuwait, Al-Sisi told journalists, “Egyptians will not allow Muslim Brotherhood members to infiltrate parliament, and if they do, the people will expel them.”

The two days of meetings with Al-Sisi attracted representatives from the majority of political groups, including Younis Makhyoun, chairman of the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party. Other Islamist groups — Al-Watan, Al-Wasat, and the Development and Reconstruction Party — were not invited.

Yousri Hamad, deputy chairman of the Salafist Watan party and a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Ahram, “The polls will be held against a backdrop of political divisions and without the necessary guarantees that they will be marked with integrity.”

Following the meetings, Makhyoun reported that Al-Sisi had said his main concern is to help Egypt stand on its feet again.

“I am not trying to create a regime for myself. I am trying to build a state with strong institutions for me and for all the presidents after me,” the president said.

Makhyoun added that Al-Sisi apologised for not meeting earlier with political leaders. “Unfortunately, I have had a very full schedule in the past few months,” Al-Sisi was cited as saying.

Makhyoun said that Al-Sisi was keen to make the point that he does not support Al-Ganzouri, but added that the president made it clear that he is willing to support any list that is able to gather representatives from across the political spectrum.

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie notes that while most Islamist political parties were not invited to the meetings, secular forces, even those that have voiced criticism of Al-Sisi since he came office, were.

“The invitees included the Popular Current, led by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, and the Constitution Party, which was founded by Mohamed Al-Baradei,” said Rabie.

Tuesday’s meetings included parties with revolutionary leftist and liberal agendas, including Al-Karama and Misr Al-Horreya, both of which opposed the election of a former army chief as president, claiming that to do so would push Egypt back to military rule.

In their two-hour meeting on Tuesday these same revolutionary forces asked for the repeal of the protest and NGOs laws, and complained that new election laws had been drafted in a manner that hindered democratic development.

Sources say Al-Sisi responded by pointing out that controversial issues like the protest law could be amended by parliament.

“It is clear that Al-Sisi wants to rally political parties behind him ahead of the parliamentary polls and the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution,” Rabie said.

“He is well aware that the next parliament will have greater powers than previous assemblies, and he wants to make sure the new intake of MPs will not be a source of worry for him.”

Rabie agrees with political parties that the HEC must exercise its supervision of the polls effectively.

“They must stand firm against any kind of state intimidation or excessive spending by businessmen candidates. Former president Hosni Mubarak’s blatant rigging of the polls at the end of 2010 was highly provocative, leading most Egyptians to rise up against him and oust him from office,” he said.

“Everyone, including the president, state authorities and the HEC, should remember what happened to Mubarak, and ensure it does not happen again.”

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