‘No elections without guarantees’

‘No elections without guarantees’

The Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP), which includes the official opposition parties of the Wafd, Tagammu, the Nasserists and Democratic Front, held a one-day conference on 8 August calling upon President Hosni Mubarak to respond to calls aimed at amending the 1956 law regarding exercising political rights.

Speaking for the coalition on Sunday night, El-Sayed El-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd Party, said, “Opposition parties are united that legal guarantees are urgently needed to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are marked with integrity. We think that the law on the exercise of political rights should be amended as soon as possible and that President Hosni Mubarak, by invoking his constitutional powers, is urged to respond to our calls even if the two houses of parliament — the People’s Assembly and Shura Council — are not currently in session,” El-Badawi said.

Called “No elections without guarantees” the conference, which drew between 3,000 to 4,000 supporters, stressed that “legislative amendments should focus on scrapping the existing individual candidacy system in favour of adopting the proportional representation slate system which is designed to ensure that political parties and minorities like Copts and women are well represented in parliament.”

El-Badawi explained that the required amendments should also re-define the roles of the Higher Election Commission (HEC) which is entrusted by the 1956 law with supervising the elections of the People’s Assembly entirely. “The law entrusted HEC with 16 roles and powers and we believe that some of these should be quickly amended or redefined to ensure that the polls are well monitored and supervised,” said El-Badawi.

According to El-Badawi, a document prepared by the Wafd Party and endorsed by the coalition, stated that the HEC should be headed by the chairman of the Court of Cassation, the highest judicial authority in Egypt, rather than the chairman of Cairo’s Appeal Court as currently stated by the 1956 law.

“In addition,” added El-Badawi, “all HEC members should be senior Cassation Court judges and all should be entrusted with selecting the polling stations, regulating their performance and ensuring that they are well supervised and monitored by one or two judges.”

The Wafd document also demanded that HEC takes direct responsibility for monitoring voting booths and has the final say on the appeals filed against the results of the elections.

The document stressed that HEC members should have full control over the police forces. “Police forces required for safeguarding the polls should take their orders only from the HEC chairman rather than from the interior minister and that the number of these forces should be equal to the number of polling stations,” said the Wafd document, adding, “It is a must that all the polling stations should be entirely and freely monitored by information media and civil society organisations.”

The document, however, refrained from stipulating that international organisations have a role in monitoring the polls. It concluded by calling upon HEC to make an overall review of the lists of voters and that these lists “should be quickly revised in accordance with the newly-designed national identity cards”.

El-Badawi indicated that the coalition’s demands for amending the 1956 political rights law should be implemented before 17 September. “If not implemented before this date, the General Assembly of the Wafd will meet to decide whether to boycott the elections,” said El-Badawi.

El-Badawi said the coalition’s requirements for free and fair elections do not mean that the coalition’s calls for constitutional reforms, which include amending articles 76, 77 and 88, will take a back seat.

“Our calls for sweeping constitutional reforms, announced in the coalition’s conference in March, still top our agenda and are necessary for political reform in Egypt and averting a scenario of inheritance of power,” said El-Badawi, adding that, “the people of Egypt will never allow inheritance because it is not a product or a piece of real estate that can be inherited.”

Observers and media people noted, however, that the CEOP conference, organised by the Wafd Party, was ignored by many politicians. The Nasserists, which are an integral part of the coalition, did not bother to send a single representative. Ahmed Hassan, secretary-general of the Nasserist Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, “the Nasserists are well aware of the Wafd’s document on election guarantees but the party took a decision that it will participate in the People’s Assembly elections whether the guarantees were accepted by the regime or not.” Hassan said an initial list of 41 Nasserist candidates has already been prepared for the election race.

The Wafd Party itself announced on Sunday that an initial list of 125 candidates will be fielded in the PA elections. The list includes most of the Wafd’s eight current MPs in parliament, adding to a list of female candidates, top of whom is Mona Makram Ebeid, a former member of parliament and a professor of politics at the American University in Cairo.

The leftist Tagammu Party found it enough to send a delegation, headed by its secretary-general Sayed Abdel-AAl, to attend the conference. Al-Ahali, the Tagammu’s weekly mouthpiece, announced last week that an initial list of 50 candidates, including seven women, will be fielded in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The CEOP conference was ignored by the National Assembly for Change (NAC) which was founded in February by Mohamed El-Baradei, the former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency to crusade for political and constitutional reform in Egypt. Hassan Nafaa, NAC’s coordinator, said NAC is in favour of boycotting elections. “We do not believe that the ruling National Democratic Party [NDP] will respond in any way to the Wafd document on election guarantees and so there will never be any real guarantees ensuring the integrity of elections,” said Nafaa, adding that, “the best way to exert pressure on the regime to democratise is to stick to NAC’s slogan ‘Let’s all boycott the elections or participate in all’.”

Nafaa and NAC’s position are supported by Osama El-Ghazali Harb, chairman of the Democratic Front Party which forms a part of CEOP. Harb, who was the only party chairman who attended the one- day conference, emphasised that his party was strongly in favour of boycotting the elections. “We believe that there will be no real guarantees and that the politics of boycotting is the best tool to exert pressure on the NDP regime,” said El-Ghazali.

Some rank-and-file Muslim Brotherhood members attended the conference. Saad El-Husseini, a Brotherhood deputy, told the Weekly that, “the group rejects the Wafd’s document request that the individual candidacy system be scrapped because this system helps both independents and party-based candidates win seats.” According to El-Husseini, “the proportional representation system goes against independents which form the majority of candidates.”

Many observers believe that the 8 August conference reflected the Wafd’s agenda rather than the demands of all CEOP members. Gamal Zahran, a professor of political economics and an independent MP, told the Weekly that, “the conference showed that the coalition suffers from deep divisions and that regardless of any guarantees, most of the parties will speed up participating in the elections at the end.”

As expected, NDP leaders responded coolly to the CEOP conference in spite of the fact that most of the party’s senior leaders, with the exception of Gamal Mubarak, had received an official invitation. NDP leaders, however, were keen to emphasise that “the possibility of amending the 1956 law on THE exercise of political rights ahead of November’s parliamentary elections is completely ruled out.”

Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People’s Assembly and a member of the NDP’s political politburo, told an Alexandria Bibliotheca meeting last week that it was by no means expected that legislative or constitutional amendments would be adopted ahead of parliamentary elections at the end of this year or even presidential elections next year.

Joining forces with Sorour, Mohamed Kamal, the NDP’s secretary for indoctrination and training, told Al-Ahram on Tuesday that “the possibility that the 1956 political rights law would be amended ahead of the polls is very difficult.

“The last amendments introduced to this law were made in 2007 and most of them were designed to ensure that integrity is the hallmark of parliamentary elections because a commission including senior judges noted for impartiality is entrusted with monitoring the elections from beginning to end,” explained Kamal, adding that “the law also allows civil society organisations to participate in monitoring the elections.”