Practices of pro-government party in Egypt criticised as ‘bribing voters’
CAIRO – Egypt’s Higher Election Commission closed the door Saturday to candidacies for the next elections of the House of Representatives after a state of tension surrounding the process of forming lists that represent half of the seats in parliament. The Nation’s Future Party was the one with the most candidates.
The newborn party, which is a semi-official political supporter of the government, has sparked controversy over its efforts to distribute what has been perceived as electoral bribes and its focus on service-related issues rather than on presenting a coherent political vision or electoral programme.
Recently, the party announced that it will bear the cost of paying the settlement of fines in 27,000 cases of construction violations involving needy citizens. Observers quickly raised questions about the move and pointed to the increasing trend of campaigns offering free basic goods to citizens in popular areas as a way to try to gain their votes — which they claim is tantamount to bribery.
One thousand cases of violations in each governorate have received the party’s generous attention. The total number of cases, however, still represents a small portion of the total number of eligible voters in the country — about 62 million people. Nevertheless, the party is counting on the intangible benefits of its action of paying off hundreds of millions of pounds in fines, which would consolidate its influence.
The party’s lists and candidates have succeeded in stealing the spotlight at the local level. These lists include a hybrid combination of figures from smaller parties and even from some opposition parties. The party in the end appeared to be an entity close to the government, and as an heir to the dissolved National Party, which ruled during the era of former President Hosni Mubarak. Even its policies and political visions are not far removed from the ones espoused by the former party.
The Nation’s Future Party, which joined an expanded coalition of 12 parties to run in parliamentary elections, believes the easiest way to reach citizens is by helping meet their basic needs, an approach that was, and still is, used by religious forces and parties.
This new “government’s party” seeks to find popular bases for itself by maximising the role of civil society under the pretext of easing the burden on the government, which has found itself in trouble because of mounting anger at decisions aimed at collecting more taxes and raising service fees.
The Egyptian government found itself in an embarrassing position when the Nation’s Future Party resorted to distributing aid cartons of oil, sugar and rice during the last Senate elections. Footage of these campaigns brought back memories of the same methods of vote bribery used by the Muslim Brotherhood.
There have been many complaints lately in Egyptian governorates following the government’s threats to demolish thousands of buildings that violate building code unless their owners pay fines to legalise their status. This situation has damaged the electoral chances of those supporting the government.
Observers believe that the timing of the Nation’s Future Party’s decision to cover the due fines of 27,000 people kills two birds with one stone. It boosts the party’s image ahead of elections and achieves the government’s desire to reduce tensions in villages and hamlets. It is also consistent with the government’s announcement to extend the grace period for paying fines to the end of next month.
Ibrahim Abdel Fattah is one of those who will benefit from the party’s aid. He is unable to pay the settlement fines on his home in the southern Minya governorate and is waiting for more measures from the government to relieve his burden. In the meantime, he does not object to assistance from one of the political parties.
Abdel Fattah told The Arab Weekly that the Nation’s Future Party’s activities in his village over the past few years and its involvement in launching many social initiatives has created a popular base on which to build in the future to address current voter disillusionment.
This vision of political work, however, was rejected by Mahmoud Ismail, an independent entrepreneur. He believes that the party’s decision raises questions about the total value of the settlement fines that it intends to pay on behalf of the citizens, and about the sources of those funds.
Ismail explained to The Arab Weekly that dealing with the crisis of building violations by resorting to election bribes may be counterproductive and could negatively affect final voter turnout.
In addition, engaging citizens through bribes and not electoral programmes leads to unlawful political competition between businessmen who have no qualms about buying their participation in the electoral process. But when these “generous donors” lose the elections or are abandoned for any reason by their surrogate parties, these parties have little chance of surviving because they haven’t built a relationship with the citizens on political programmes and visions.
Political analyst Gamal Asaad said that mortgaging political participation in elections with financial and in-kind bribes does not bode well for the future of the democratic process and politics.
In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Assad insisted that the absence of ethical values in political work naturally leads to the spread of dirty money in politics. The power of political parties at the present time is confined to the balance of their brute material power, and not to the political struggle or the historical positions of each party.