Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Independents begin to campaign

More than 2,500 independent candidates will compete for 226 seats in the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections,Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Saturday the Higher Election Committee (HEC) announced that 2,573 independent candidates will be standing in the first phase of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, scheduled between17 and 28 October.

Elections will take place in 14 governorates — Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, New Valley, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, Red Sea, Beheira, Alexandria and Marsa Matruh — with a total of 226 MPs being returned.

The elections will open when Egyptians abroad begin voting on 17 and 18 October. Voters in Egypt will then have their say on 18 and19 October. If there is a run-off, voting abroad will take place on 26 and 27 October and in Egypt on 27 and 28 October.

MPs will be elected from 103 constituencies spread across the 14 governorates involved in the first phase of voting. The seats are divided as follows: Giza (37), Fayoum (15), Beni Sweif (14), Minya (25), Assiut (20), New Valley (4), Sohag (22), Qena (15), Luxor (6), Aswan (8), the Red Sea (4), Beheira (27), Alexandria (25) and Marsa Matruh (4).

HEC spokesperson Omar Marawan has announced 16,000 judges will be involved in supervising the vote.

“There will be 103 main polling stations and 5,460 voting centres in 14 governorates,” said Marawan. A voting centre, usually a school or a sporting club, could accommodate two or three auxiliary polling stations.

There are only 112 women among the 2,573 independent candidates standing.

“Sixty-five per cent of candidates are without any clear political affiliation while the remaining 35 per cent are being fielded by political parties,” says Marawan.

The vote will be observed by 81 civil society organisations employing 17,465 licenced monitors to observe the polls. They will be supplemented by “another six foreign organizations employing 546 monitors and 171 translators,” said Marawan.

On Saturday the HEC reported that 32 complaints have been filed against independent candidates for violating campaign rules, of which six have been upheld.

“Candidates have been accused of campaigning in places of worship, schools and universities and of offering election bribes to voters in the form of commodities such as cooking oil and sugar,” said the HEC.

Four private television channels also face charges of campaigning for individual candidates.

Marawan cautioned that the number of 2,573 independent candidates could change after administrative courts rule on appeals filed by rejected candidates.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz Hegazi, deputy chairman of the State Council, says 671 petitions and 227 appeals have been launched by rejected candidates.

The appeal filed by steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, the former right-hand man of Hosni Mubarak’s son and heir-apparent Gamal, against the rejection of his candidacy application, was due to be settled on Wednesday.

Ezz, who still faces corruption charges, surprised the court on Saturday by announcing that he is willing to donate half his personal wealth to the Long Live Egypt Fund founded by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as a goodwill gesture signalling his desire to open a new page with the Egyptian people.

“The media claim I was the engineer of corruption and the architect of vote rigging in the 2010 parliamentary elections. I want to exonerate myself of these accusations by donating half of my wealth,” said Ezz.

According to Hegazy, the State Council will rule on the same day on the appeal filed by belly dancer Sama Al-Masry, who is seeking to stand as an independent candidate in the South Cairo constituency of Al-Gamaliya.

The State Council has rejected three appeals that sought to delay the elections. One, filed by Abdel-Gelil Mostafa, coordinator of the Reawakening of Egypt electoral alliance, alleged the HEC had acted improperly by extending the time limit for candidates to undergo medical check-ups.

Appeals filed by lawyers Montasser Al-Zayat and Essam Al-Islambouli petitioned for a postponement of the poll on the grounds that candidates who were members of Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi’s ruling parties had been allowed to stand.

“The law stipulates that candidates must be of good reputation, which is not the case when they were linked to the Mubarak-era ruling party and the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood,” argued Al-Islambouli.

The State Council has also rejected an appeal that attempted to exclude the Nour Party from contesting seats on the grounds that it is a religious party and as such contravenes Article 74 of the new constitution.

An appeal filed by former MP Gamal Zahran has been referred to the State Council’s board of commissioners for review.

Zahran’s petition argues the polls must be cancelled because they are being held before the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) gives a final verdict on the constitutionality of the election laws.

A striking feature of the first week of campaigning is the extent to which religious slogans have lost ground. In the 2012 parliamentary elections more than 40 per cent of the candidates hailed from Islamist groups and were more than happy to play the religious card.

Now, says Al-Ahram political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid, “the vast majority of candidates realise that employing religious slogans is unlikely to win the support of voters.”

“Religious campaigning became a dominant feature of elections in the 1980s when religious slogans struck a strong chord with voters,” says Abdel-Meguid. “But now citizens have seen how the slogans of Islamists failed to match their deeds. The response of the public is to say no, we don’t want preachers with their empty sermons, what we want are parliamentarians who can offer us improved services.”

“Islam is the solution,” “We are the defenders of Islamic Sharia,” and “No to the election of secularists” were common refrains during the 2012 parliamentary election. These days, says Abdel-Meguid, the only group still peddling the same line is the Nour Party whose election manifesto says its candidates “are fighting to implement Islamic Sharia and keep the country’s Islamic identity intact.”

The No to Religious Parties campaign has repeatedly claimed that the Nour Party’s programme clearly shows it is a religious party and as such should be banned from the political arena.

“The HEC should invoke all available measures to prevent the use of religious and sectarian slogans by the Nour Party,” insists No to Religious Parties campaign head Mohamed Atia.

The Nour Party’s response to its critics has been to draw attention to a handful of Coptic candidates standing on its lists.

Nader Al-Serafy, a Coptic candidate standing in Alexandria, told a public rally on 4 October that “the Nour Party is a civil grouping.” Al-Serafy added, “We are not a secular party because we are against any separation between religion and politics.”

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