Monday, December 6, 2010

Egypt: Electoral Comedy

By Mohammad Salah
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 6/12/2010
It will not be a surprise when the final results of the Egyptian parliamentary elections are announced and it appears that candidates affiliated with opposition forces have won seats in the second round, which was held yesterday, despite the fact that the first round had ended in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) winning a number of seats unbelievable at any elections, the Wafd Party winning two seats and the El-Ghad, Tagammu and Social Justice parties winning one seat each. Indeed, the events of the second round of elections have shown that the ruling party and the administrative apparatus made sure to give opposition candidates the opportunity to win! This is despite the fact that this same party and this same apparatus in the first round exerted enough effort and took enough measures to make any opposition candidate winning a Parliament seat more difficult than obtaining “bird’s milk”, as the popular Egyptian saying goes, meaning achieving the impossible.

Why then did the first round of elections take place the way it did, and why did the attitude of the ruling party and government apparatus change in the second round? Indeed, since the NDP intends to allow the opposition to be represented, even if to a limited extent, it would have been better for it and for everyone for the first round to take place not in the way it did, and for representatives of the opposition to be slipped into Parliament in both phases in such a way as to avoid embarrassment in the face of the bitter criticism that was leveled at the elections. Most astonishing was the difference in the stances taken by all Egyptian political forces yesterday when compared to those taken in the first round, to the point where the Wafd Party even issued a statement in which it warned against having its candidates win “under government instructions”!

Indeed, it considered that such measures, if they had in fact been taken, were aimed at “causing rifts within the structure of the Wafd Party”. This statement by the Wafd Party was in response to news that circulated yesterday about Wafd Party candidates who were waging the electoral race and had not committed to the party’s decision to boycott the elections. The same thing happened with the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the Marg district, Magdi Ashour, who in turn rushed to assert his commitment to the Brotherhood’s decision to boycott the second round, and deny the news of members of the Brotherhood kidnapping him in order to force him to commit to the “boycott”!

The race between opposition forces angered by the events of the first round of elections seeking to assert the boycott, and on the other hand the NDP seeking to improve its image by facilitating the task of opposition candidates, has turned into a debate in which each party seeks to prove the soundness of the news its had been propagating, promoting and perhaps using to provoke the other party or parties. Indeed, the NDP asserts that some opposition and Brotherhood candidates were competing and breaching the boycott, while the Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood spread statements asserting that the NDP seeks to improve the image of the elections after the fraud that took place in the first round and reactions to it. And because the worst of the worst is laughable, some NDP candidates spoke of fraud that took place to ensure the success of opposition candidates who boycotted the elections! The same thing happened with other candidates affiliated to the Tagammu party, which insisted on continuing to participate in the round of elections in order to yet again “expose the methods of fraud”, in the words of the party’s leader Doctor Refaat El-Said. Meanwhile, the ruling party changed its stance and its strategy, and drove towards allowing opposition candidates to succeed, so as for its MPs not to sit alone in Parliament, and in order to prove that the crisis of the elections was not due to what was pointed to in terms of fraud, interference and violations, but rather to the weakness of opposition forces and their candidates.

On the whole, the events of the Egyptian parliamentary elections confirmed that the ails of political party representation in Egypt have taken hold of the parties, all of the parties, and that curing them requires a political will and walking a long, bumpy and perilous road, yet one with a bright end. If, on the other hand, all parties continue to walk the road they are walking now, then there is no hope of even talking of elections in which the ruling party backs opposition candidates in order to ward off the suspicion of accusations of fraud, after a round of elections in which the party itself made use of every possible means to be alone on the political stage, playing the main character in a show that was supposed to be realistic, but turned out to be a comedy.

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