Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Reasons for optimism

With comparisons being made between this week’s parliamentary elections and those held in 2010, Dina Ezzat speaks to Hossam Badrawi, a senior figure in the former ruling party

Al-Ahram Weekly

It was in 2010 that Hossam Badrawi , then a leading figure in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), all but publicly shared his concerns over what he considered an exaggerated show of political power by the party.

Public discontent over the quality of life in the country and the state’s political management was growing and could no longer be denied. But the old and new guards of the NDP ignored Badrawi’s concerns, dismissing him as a “soft politician.”

The first days of the 25 January Revolution went way beyond the “angry public reaction” he had predicted. Badrawi called on leading figures in the NDP to bow to public pressure before the demonstrations turned into demands for then-president Hosni Mubarak to step down. He was again ignored.

Only days later, Mubarak was forced to step down after having removed the heads of the NDP who were behind the orchestration of the 2010 parliamentary elections.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly on the eve of the first round of this month’s parliamentary elections, Badrawi acknowledged that there are “some similarities” between the 2010 and 2015 elections.

It was not the top positions that he seemed willing to immediately compare, but rather the wider base. “This is what I would immediately see, in terms of the similarities you are asking about,” he said. “I see the same electoral base and the same approach that the candidates have adopted towards their constituencies. It is as if there have been no major political developments since then.”

Said Badrawi, “Despite all we have been through during the last five years we are still seeing electoral campaigns based on promoting a candidate’s ability to promote services alone.”

Five years after the 2010 parliamentary elections, considered by many political analysts for and against the Mubarak regime to have been the last straw that led to the end of his three-decade rule, Badrawi hardly sees any sign that the coming parliament will be “designed to oversee a sustainable plan for development.”

On the side of the opposition, Badrawi also sees “clear similarities” to the 2010 legislative elections. “They are the same in the sense that the so-to-speak secular opposition is weak and divided,” he said.

“It was always argued that the NDP was acting to eliminate all the ‘civil’ opposition. Well, here we are five years after the NDP was defeated and after so many political developments and the opposition parties, as many as they have become, are still unable to offer serious plans, either independently or collectively, or seriously engage the public,” said Badrawi.

This is the case, he continued, despite “the vacuum that the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from the political scene has left, with nobody being able to fill it.” There is “not even a solid, well-orchestrated camp of supporters standing together behind the head of the executive as the case used to be until the 2010 parliament was elected,” he added.

The groupings that have formed the electoral lists, Badrawi said, are not clusters of like-minded politicians who share a clear vision for the future of the country, but rather “the sheer coming together of individuals who are in a position to win.”

With no clear political orientation and no cohesive plan for socioeconomic development and political evolution, the next parliament, Badrawi argued, should at least be entrusted with creating “a balance of powers, of a sort,” between the executive and the legislative branches of government.

Badrawi does not sound very certain that this mission can be achieved, however. “I am afraid we are facing up to an unruly parliament that might not have a clear voice of opposition and will also be without a united voice of support. It will not be a parliament that has a majority in the orthodox sense of the word, which will make it very hard even for the head of state to lean on MPs to stand up for some of the tough measures he might need to pass,” he said.

Having been a leading member of the NDP, Badrawi recalled the “difficulty in getting the NDP majority in the previous parliaments — which was around 80 per cent on average — to rally behind the support of some unpopular legislation. At times it was a long process that required compromises, give and take, carrot and stick, and so on,” he said.

The next parliament might well be president-friendly in a general sense, but in reality it will likely be a parliament that will leave the head of the executive with a tough mission to lobby public support for his measures. Meanwhile, this unruly parliament might also be unable to convince the president to entertain ideas that he might otherwise dismiss from the political scene.

With so many socioeconomic and political questions that require prompt action, the nation is now expecting to see a new parliament that has no clear political orientation, Badrawi said, “beyond that all its members say they are with the president,” and that subscribes to no particular economic line.

“I will not say that it will be the kind of a parliament that will help the president do a better job, either in terms of being able to bring the executive into line through a proper process of checks and balances, or in terms of supporting tough measures or prompting necessary debate. In this respect, I have to agree with you — it might be less in some respects than the 2010 parliament, which is often brought up for comparison,” Badrawi said.

In terms of living up to its constitutional mandate of nominating and supporting the government, Badrawi is also uncertain about the abilities of the next legislative house.

“I have always thought that a key problem for the development of our country is the lack of an effective and clear-minded government that is also small in number. This is especially the case now, with the accumulated problems that we have,” Badrawi said.

“I am not sure that an unruly parliament will be able to nominate an efficient government. We have to have shared responsibility with a clear list of priorities. We cannot pretend that our challenges are small or that the current way of having large governments in which ministries often act like isolated islands is for the best. Unfortunately, a fragmented parliament cannot fix this situation.”

One of the main similarities to the 2010 parliament has been the role of the business community. Even before the launch of the electoral campaigns, there were apparent attempts to influence the composition of the next parliament through lavish spending.

Badrawi’s worry is not about the influence of the “private sector that provides jobs for around 14 million people, practically double those employed by the government.” Rather, he said, “My concern is that such dynamics allow influence only to a small part of the private sector, namely the top of the business community, which in my opinion is not very representative.”

Then comes the inevitable question of whether the only expected achievement, as sceptics and critics suggest, of the next parliament will be to amend the constitution that was passed in January 2014, as has been suggested by the president himself, to allow the president more prerogatives at the expense of the parliament.

“There are two things here. First, I am convinced that since 1952 our political culture has been in favour of a presidential system rather than a parliamentary or semi-presidential system,” said Badrawi.

Second, I am not sure that the problem is with the prerogatives of the president but rather with the ability of the parliament to exercise accountability over the executive in an effective manner that would improve its performance.”

The constitution should be amended to re-introduce a presidential system with the necessary democratic cushioning, he said. However, he hastened to add that should this happen, “the current president should not be the one to benefit from any such amendment in order to avoid any allegations of political manipulation. It should be the following president who benefits.”

“I put forward this proposal to the Committee of 50 when it was working on the constitution, and I suggested that the article stipulating that no amendment to the text of the constitution should be made except by an elected parliament should also stipulate that the president in office should not be allowed to benefit from any amendments that are adopted during his rule. My proposal was dismissed then, and I see no sign that things will be any different now,” Badrawi said.

He recalled that in 2007, during the period of the controversial constitutional amendments, he made the same proposal to Mubarak, but was ignored. According to Badrawi, the problem is that the constitution was drafted in a fashion that was politically loaded and “its articles in many ways were influenced by the spirit of the moment.”

But Badrawi added, “I am honestly optimistic. Yes, I am optimistic. I am genetically optimistic, but I also believe that the sheer fact that the parliament will be elected will allow for a political dynamic to begin that will help to fill the political vacuum that has come our way.”

His optimism is, however, measured. He accepts that if the next parliament fails to act at least partially to fill the existing political vacuum, then the masses may be inclined to again feel that they have to take matters into their own hands and to take to the streets “one way or the other to represent themselves.”

“I think it will be very hard for us to see a replay of the 2011 scene,” Badrawi said. But he agreed that the lesson to be learned from the experience of the 2010 elections and that should not be missed today is that when people feel that their legitimate channels of representation are failing them they will take things into their own hands.

Badrawi is a firm believer in “certain key sayings of the great Albert Einstein. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

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