Egypt’s parliamentary elections kick off
|Wednesday, November 9,2005 00:00|
Egypt’s parliamentary elections kick off
Polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) and will stay open until 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) but the deadline could possibly be extended for late voters.
Egyptian officials said there are some 10.75 million eligible voters and around 1,600 candidates in the first phase of the elections as some contenders dropped out of the race at the last moment.
A total of 164 parliamentary seats are up for grab in the first phase in 82 constituencies across eight governorates, namely, Cairo, Giza, Al-Minya, Minufiya, Asyut, Beni Suef, Matruh and New Valley.
The total number of registered voters in this year’s parliamentary elections stands at around 32 million and 444 out of the 454 parliamentary seats are to be decided by voters while the remaining 10 seats are appointed directly by the president.
The second phase and the third phase of the elections will be held on Nov. 20 and Dec. 1 respectively. If necessary, run-offs will be held six days after the first round of voting in each phase.
The Egyptian government has repeatedly promised the elections will proceed under free and fair atmosphere and several measures are taken to enhance the credibility of the polling process.
According to a guidebook issued by the Information Ministry, polling stations will use transparent ballot boxes for the first time in the country’s history and voters will dip their fingers into indelible ink as part of efforts to avoid irregularities.
The polling process will be supervised not only by judges and justice ministry officials but also be closely watched by local civil rights societies and representatives of the candidates, officials said.
The following are brief accounts of major political forces competing in the elections.
NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (NDP)
The party, led by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is Egypt’s ruling party. With 404 seats in the outgoing 454-member People’s Assembly, it is also the largest political party in the country. In the Sept. 7 presidential elections, its candidate, Mubarak, was easily swept into a fifth six-year term, winning 89 percent of votes.
The party has been implementing an internal restructuring plan in the past years, positioning itself to be more of a modern ruling political party. Campaigning under the slogan "New thinking, across into the future," the NDP promises comprehensive political and economic reforms in the coming years.
The NDP has fielded a list of 444 candidates. Analysts believe, with its highly organized party machine and vast resources at disposal, the party will, predictably, secure a comfortable majority in the incoming People’s Assembly.
However, many NDP members who failed to gain official party nomination decided to run as independents, which might reduce the chances of some official NDP candidates. In the previous parliamentary elections in 2000, the NDP secured a majority in People’s Assembly only after those independents who ran and won returned to the party fold.
THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
The Brotherhood is the de facto largest opposition group in Egypt. The group, founded in 1928, was outlawed as Egypt’s constitution banned political parties based on religion, but the group renounced violence decades ago and has been largely tolerated by the government.
Its members, running as independents in the 2000 parliamentary elections, won 17 seats, forming the largest single opposition bloc in the parliament.
Sensing a new opportunity for political participation as the Egyptian government promises more democratic reforms, the Muslim Brotherhood decided to double its participation in this year’s legislative elections, fielding some 150-170 candidates, up from 90 in 2000.
Running a vast charity network, the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys unequalled grassroots support among common Egyptians. Analysts believe its candidates might be able to win around 30 seats in this year’s elections.
However, the slogans used by the Brotherhood candidates such as "Islam is the solution" sound outrageous for some secular Egyptian political groups, which always fears the emergence of a powerful Islamist government in the Arab world’s most populous country.
THE NATIONAL UNITED FRONT FOR CHANGE
It is an opposition alliance formed by 10 major opposition parties and the Kefaya (Enough) movement which has gain relative prominence on Egypt’s political landscape after holding strings of anti-government demonstrations in the run-up to the September presidential elections.
Earlier this year, Egypt’s major opposition parties decided to share a joint list of candidates in this year’s parliamentary elections, hoping to enhance their chances in the fight against the NDP candidates and also to avoid direct competition among one another.
The alliance also coordinated with the Muslim Brotherhood over candidate lists, but another major opposition party, the year-old Al Ghad (Tomorrow) party, was notably left out of the alliance.
The alliance has fielded some 200 candidates, distributed among the political parties and the Kefaya movement.
THE AL GHAD PARTY
Although one of the youngest political parties in Egypt, the Al Ghad successfully stood out as its leader Ayman Nour came second in the September presidential elections, winning some 8 percent of votes.
However, the party is now in trouble as Nour currently stands on trial for his alleged role in falsifying signatures last year to gain an official license for his party.
The party suffered another blow earlier this year after a split among top leaders. Under some extreme circumstances, two candidates, both claiming from the Al Ghad party, compete in the same constituency, causing confusion among voters. The breakaway branch of the party also made a competing claim for the 50 million Egyptian pounds (about 8.7 million US dollars) distributed by the government for political parties.
The Al Ghad party, led by Nour, fielded a list of about 200 candidates. Its chances in the elections are hard to tell.
The so-called independents, estimated at 3,000 altogether, account for a majority of the total 5,310 candidates competing in the three phases of this year’s parliamentary elections.
Most of the independents are the NDP members who failed to appear on the party-sanctioned candidate list but decided to run anyway. The NDP officials have warned them to back down or face tough internal discipline, but given to the experience in previous elections, if it turns to be that they, not the official NDP candidates, win, the party might be just happy to see them rejoin the party again after the elections.