Egypt sets dates for parliamentary elections
CAIRO - Egypt has scheduled elections for October and November to decide the make-up of its parliament in the first such move since the overthrow of Islamist president Muhammad Morsi in July 2013.
Egypt’s elections commission said the voting would be in two stages: October 18th and 19th in 14 provinces and November 22nd and 23rd in 13 provinces.
The elections are the third step on Egypt’s post-Morsi political road map, which was approved by the military, political parties and religious institutions after Morsi’s removal from power.
Egypt has been without a parliament since then, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been holding its legislative powers. He will continue to do this until parliament has its first session before the end of the year.
The elections come at a time when Egypt’s non-religious parties are the least prepared, having failed in the two years since the downfall of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood regime to strengthen their position on the streets.
Most of Egypt’s more than 100 secular, leftist and liberal parties exist on paper only and are nowhere to be found among the general public, according to Abdel Ghaffar Shukr, a leftist politician and veteran of Egyptian politics.
“These parties are very weak and this will ultimately affect their chances in the elections,” Shukr said. “We have been calling on these parties to merge into two or three stronger ones but these calls have fallen on deaf ears.”
Sisi has been of the same view. The former army head, who became president in June 2014, does not have a political party. He has repeatedly called on various party leaders to create alliances that allow for a small number of stronger parties.
At stake are 120 parliamentary seats specified for political parties and 448 seats allocated for independent candidates. The president has the right to give 28 seats to figures of his own choice, according to Egypt’s election law. These seats usually go to marginalised Christians, women and disabled citizens.
Legislators have the right to withdraw confidence from the president, influence political decision-making at the highest level and bring government officials to question in the light of Egypt’s new constitution, which was approved by voters in early 2014.
This is why Sisi is keen to warn the public against selecting “unfit” candidates for parliament. He has said that, in selecting legislators, the public needs to be cautious and act as though they are selecting bridegrooms for their daughters.
Parliamentary hopefuls must submit election applications by September 12th. They must also undergo medical tests to prove that they are physically and mentally fit.
A run-off for the first stage of the elections was set for October 27th and 28th. The run-off for the second stage is scheduled for December 1st and 2nd.
Egyptians living outside their country will also be allowed to cast ballots two days preceding the elections in each phase at home, Justice Ayman Abbas, the head of the elections commission, said August 30th.
Elections in Egypt are about consensus. This is why soon after Abbas announced the election dates, secular, leftist and liberal party leaders began drumming up coalitions. The plan is for the parties to produce a joint list of candidates that ensures their candidates will not run against each other but be strong enough to face the competition of Islamist candidates. Six coalitions were announced within days of the election announcement.
The post-Morsi political road map also included a referendum on an amended version of the Muslim Brotherhood-drafted constitution of 2013 and presidential elections.
According to Shukr, this weakness on the part of the secular, leftist and liberal parties will benefit the Islamists, including ultraorthodox Salafist parties that backed Morsi’s ouster but apparently want to pose as a viable substitute to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“I think the Salafists will have strong presence in the next parliament,” Shukr said. “Some voters still believe that a legislator is someone who offers social services, not someone who makes legislation.”
And services are what the Salafists are offering, especially in the countryside in the Nile Delta and southern Egypt, learning a lesson from the Muslim Brotherhood and capitalising on the failure of the government to provide for its people.
The Muslim Brotherhood used to give the poor free food, health care and medicine. Muslim Brotherhood teachers also used to offer free tuition to schoolchildren at the country’s mosques. In times of crises — when there is a scarcity of butane gas cylinders, for example — Muslim Brotherhood members used to provide them at reduced prices.
The Salafists are doing the same now, offering food to the poor and medical services. Salafist preachers also use mosques to rally support for their parties. Al-Nour, one of several Salafist parties in Egypt, has started preparing for the elections by creating lists of candidates.
“We have started giving training to our candidates in effective communication with the public,” Salah Abdel Maaboud, a senior member of al-Nour Party, said. “We have also prepared a strong election programme.” He added that his party has hopes to win enough seats in parliament to have its say in Egyptian political life for years to come.