Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Money talks

Campaigning for Egypt’s parliamentary elections began Tuesday amid concerns that wealthy candidates enjoy an unfair advantage. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Higher Election Committee (HEC) announced  earlier this week that campaigning for the first stage of the parliamentary elections will take place between 29 September and 15 October.

According to HEC spokesperson Omar Marawan, campaigning officially kicked off on Tuesday and will continue for 17 days.

“The HEC’s poll timetable includes a silent day on 16 October to be followed by the vote for Egyptians abroad on 17 and 18 October and for Egyptians inside Egypt on 18 and 19 October,” said Marawan. “In case of a run-off, voting abroad will take place on 26 and 27 October and in Egypt on 27 and 28 October.

Marawan announced on Tuesday that 2,573 independent and 300 party-based candidates would stand in the first stage of the vote. Five party lists and coalitions will contest the West Delta, fielding a total of 75 candidates. The same number of lists will battle it out in Upper Egypt where 225 coalition and party candidates are standing.

Campaigning starts amid fears that wealthy candidates will enjoy an unfair advantage. The HEC’s candidate lists are dominated by wealthy businessmen and landowners who command widespread patronage networks.

“Businessmen have opted to run as independents, hardly surprising given the election laws allocate the vast majority of seats to independent candidates. Now they are ready to spend millions to secure a seat in parliament,” Tagammu Party spokesman Nabil Zaki told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The collapse of Egypt’s  political parties after two revolutions in four years has  opened the door wide for independent  businessmen seeking parliamentary seats,” argues Zaki. “Many of them are former members of Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), others are businessmen encouraged to run  for the first time.”

Tahani Al-Gibali, a former judge running on Republican Alliance of Social Forces coalition ticker, is worried that “political money” will determine the outcome of the election.

Party-based lists also include a number of businessmen. Candidates standing on behalf of the For the Love of Egypt coalition include at least 11 high-profile businessmen. Some, like oil tycoon Akmal Qortam and electricity cable magnate Mohamed Zaki Al-Seweidi, were members of Mubarak’s NDP. Others, like Farag Amer, a food industrialist and chairman of Alexandria’s Semouha Club, are entering politics for the first time.

Zaki expects that spending on election campaigns will far exceed the ceilings imposed by the HEC. He complains that the seven member judicial body mandated to oversee the polls lacks the necessary tools to ensure candidates to not infringe the regulations.

According to Marawan, the HEC has appointed a subcommittee to oversee election campaigns and make sure they comply with the rules.

“Offenders will face financial penalties ranging from LE10,000 to LE100,000, and those guilty of serious violations will be removed from the list of candidates,” he says.

He warned, however, that “citizens or media personnel seeking to report violations must do so in a professional way”.

“Only violations for which there is documentary proof — ie videotapes or other recordings — will be investigated by the HEC.”

In a report issued on 26 September the Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR) said some candidates had launched their election campaigns early.

“The Muslim feast of Al-Adha was widely used to launch election campaigns in violation of the HEC’s rules,” says the AOHR.

Under HEC regulations a campaign spending ceiling of LE500,000 in the first round and LE200,000 in case of a run-off applies to independent candidates. A ceiling of LE2.5 million in the first round and LE1 million in the case of a run-off applies to lists of 15 party candidates, and LE7.5 million in the first round and LE3 million in the case of a run-off for 45 party candidate lists.

Candidates are required to open a bank account into which all campaign funds are deposited. “They have to open these accounts at either the National Bank of Egypt or Bank Misr and the HEC must be informed of all expenditure,” says Marawan.

Candidates are banned from receiving funding from abroad, and individual donations cannot exceed five per cent of the official ceiling.

The HEC has urged public and private media to give equal time to all candidates. The Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) says it will police mosques to ensure they are not used for campaign purposes. Already, it says, action has had to be taken to prevent clerics from the Salafi Nour Party from using mosques to promote their campaigns.

The No to Religious Parties campaign says it has prepared a blacklist of candidates who had close ties with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood or participated in the massive public sit-ins the Brotherhood organised in Cairo and Giza to protest ainst Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office.

“We will tour all constituencies to alert voters to the danger of voting for these Brotherhood proxies,” says the campaign’s coordinator Mohamed Attia. “The No to Religious Parties campaign is determined to prevent the return of Islamists to parliament or any public office.”

Attia said the black list includes candidates affiliated to the Nour, Wasat and Strong Egypt Parties. Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, head of the Strong Egypt Party, was a long-term leading Brotherhood official.

Nour denies its candidates will raise religious slogans in places of worship. Their campaign, say party officials, will use social media to reach as many voters as possible.

Most political parties say they will hold public rallies.

The Wafd Party has revealed it has allocated a “substantial budget” to funding the more than 200 Wafdists running as independents.

“We help them hold public rallies, distribute election flyers and leaflets and raise posters everywhere,” says Wafd Party Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi.

The first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections covers 14 of the country’s 27 governorates. It will include 11 governorates in Upper Egypt  — Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, New Valley, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan and the Red Sea, the Nile Delta governorate of Al-Beheira and the two Mediterranean governorates of Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh.

A total of 286 seats will be up for grabs in the first stage, 226 reserved for independents and 60 for those standing as part of party-based lists. The 226 independents will be elected from 103 constituencies, and the 60 party-based candidates from two constituencies: one, North, Middle and South Upper Egypt, will return 45 MPs; the other, West Delta, 15.

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