Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Fast track president?

Interim President Adli Mansour is expected to issue a decree bringing forward presidential elections. Who will the decision benefit, asks Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following four meetings over two weeks with representatives of youth groups, political parties,  unions, and with a wide range of activists and public figures, presidential sources imply interim President Adli Mansour is likely to issue a decree — “within days” — amending the 8 July Constitutional Declaration to allow presidential elections to be held ahead of any parliamentary poll.

The 50-member committee that drafted a new constitution left it up to the interim president to determine the electoral system for parliamentary elections. Mansour is therefore obliged to issue a second decree detailing the system to be used. Most commentators assume the system will favour individual candidacy with a third or less parliamentary seats elected according to party lists. The referendum on the draft constitution is scheduled for 14 and 15 January. Mansour should issue both decrees before the referendum so their contents can be incorporated.  

The roadmap declared on 3 July by Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi following Mohamed Morsi’s removal as president appointed Mansour as interim president, and included amending the 2012 constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. In his Sunday meeting with activists Mansour made clear that whatever his decision was on the order of elections both would be held within six months of the expected approval of the new draft constitution.

A majority of those attending meetings with the interim president favoured presidential elections first. They argued that the deteriorating security situation meant only a president in office would give the public a sense of stability that has been absent since Morsi’s removal. More important, approval of the constitution by a large margin would pull the carpet from beneath Brotherhood claims that Morsi commanded “popular legitimacy” and his removal constituted a military coup.

Last week’s decision to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, and the escalation in terrorist attacks that have included deadly incidents in Mansoura, Sharqiya and Sinai, has added to the sense of urgency surrounding the election of a new president.

Of the 87 political and public figures who took part in a meeting with Mansour on 22 December 75 supported the holding presidential elections first against 12 who opted to retain the 8 July roadmap as declared. The latter argued that holding parliamentary elections first would avoid a situation in which, for a time at least, the president would wield both executive and legislative power. Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr, leader of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, expressed concern that electing a president ahead of parliament could influence the results of parliamentary elections. Shokr said he would prefer the parliamentary poll to take place under a neutral president such as Mansour who confirmed to attendees that he harboured no presidential ambitions.

Such concerns have made no inroads in a media that is resolutely behind the holding of presidential elections as soon as possible. Mansour’s concern to debate the issue, combined with the media’s — both state-owned and private — unadulterated support of the military, has ratcheted up already fevered speculation that Al- Sisi will announce his candidacy.  

Figures with access to the Defence Minister, including Mansour, have said repeatedly that Al-Sisi has not yet reached a decision. Such statements hardly look calculated to calm down campaigns that seek to persuade the general to stand.

On a popular talk show on 19 December Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, journalist, political analyst and onetime political adviser to Gamal Abdel-Nasser, said that Al-Sisi, a former director of Military Intelligence, remained “hesitant” and might not run for president because “he might find it difficult to take off his military uniform”. Heikal added Al-Sisi was also concerned that seeking the presidency might “negatively affect” the military establishment should his candidacy fail.

During the 22 December meeting Mansour told attendees that “the person [Al-Sisi] you might be thinking will run for president has not made up his mind yet… You might be surprised by an unexpected list of candidates.”

Tahani Al-Gebali, a former Constitutional Court judge and staunch opponent of the Brotherhood, reacted to the statements by saying “if Al-Sisi doesn’t want to become president we must force him to change his mind”. She was echoing a statement made a day earlier by former presidential candidate, Arab League chief and Chair of the Committee of Fifty Amr Moussa.

“What does it mean that he [Al-Sisi] doesn’t want to run? We will make him run,” Moussa told a cheering audience.

An opinion poll released in November by the Washington-based Arab American Institute showed that 70 per cent of respondents continued to have confidence in the army, down from 94 per cent in May.

In a country ruled by army officers from 1952 to Morsi’s election, and following three years of security and economic deterioration which began with Hosni Mubarak’s removal on 11 February 2011, there is no doubt that many Egyptians will support Al-Sisi if he chose to make a presidential bid.

Against a backdrop of ongoing chaos that only a military man can sort out the mess is a common sentiment. The only military figure on the scene is Al-Sisi, a man steadily promoted under Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Several key presidential hopefuls, including Hamdeen Sabahi, are clearly waiting for Al-Sisi to announce his intentions before contemplating their own decisions. They know their chances will be slim against the popular defence minister.

The most divisive issue for participants in the four recent rounds of discussions with Mansour was the system under which parliamentary elections would be held. Leaders of the Wafd, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Dostour, the Socialist Alliance and Sabahi’s Popular Trend strongly backed a list system, arguing that it would serve to strengthen political parties and progress along the road to a meaningful, multi-party democracy. They warned that to revert to individual candidacy would open the door to the return of Mubarak regime figures and Islamist groups, the two factions that can afford to throw vast sums of money into their campaigns.

Figures close to the Mubarak regime attacked the representatives of political parties attending the meeting with Mansour. Al-Gebali told the president “the Egyptian people should not pay the price for the weakness of political parties… they should be able to vote for individual candidates they know and not for a list of unknown figures presented to them by marginal political parties.”

Critics of the individual system also argue that it will replicate Mubarak-era parliaments in which deputies were concerned with building local power bases rather than addressing urgent national tasks or holding the government accountable.

Among attendees at the 22 December meeting 53 favoured a mixed system with a third of seats selected from party lists and the remainder from independent candidates. Twenty-two said all seats should be filled by independents and six opted for an exclusive party list based system.

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