Egypt vote results yield few surprises

Egypt vote results yield few surprises
Alain Navarro

CAIRO —  Results for the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections produced few surprises on Thursday, with President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party firmly in control despite an apparent surge by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Ayman Nour, who had emerged as the veteran leader’s main rival in the September presidential elections, lost his seat in his own Cairo stronghold to a member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Runoffs are due to be held on November 15, but with the elections spread out over three phases in a month, it was not clear yet what the balance of power would be in the next parliament.

Electoral commission secretary-general Intissar Nessim gave no global turnout figure. Announcing the results for each of the 82 constituencies in the first round, he said that most NDP stalwarts retained their seats.

In Cairo parliament speaker Fathi Sorour and presidential cabinet chief Zakaria Azmi cruised to reelection, while the housing and finance ministers also won.

In the Nile Delta region NDP vice-chairman Kamal Al Shazli and Ahmed Ezz, who is close to Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal and a member of the ruling party’s politburo, were also reelected.

After a lackluster campaign the coalition of secular opposition parties suffered major blows, with the defeat of Wafd stalwarts Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour and Mohammed Kamel.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood, already the largest opposition force in parliament, led a well-crafted and aggressive campaign and had 41 candidates involved in runoffs.

Egypt’s political scene looked set to be increasing polarized between the NDP and the Muslim Brothers but there was no clear indication whether the Islamist movement remained on track to achieve its goal of trebling the current seat tally of 15.

“The results were rigged and this fraud serves neither democracy nor the Egyptian people. Fraud was blatant and the regime refuses to change its attitude toward the people,” the movement leader, Mohammed Mehdi Akef, said.

The polling process was marred by widespread irregularities, ranging from vote buying to the absence of indelible ink aimed at preventing double voting, according to opposition groups.

Nongovernmental organizations listed a number of violations but stressed that voting had passed without any major incidents and praised the security forces for adopting a low profile.

The fate of independents, who account for around two-thirds of the 5,310 candidates running in the polls, could also play a major part in shaping the next parliament.

“The first observation is the extreme weakness of the non-Islamist opposition, as Nour’s defeat demonstrates,” said Hugh Roberts, an analyst from the International Crisis Group.

While the presidential elections that swept Mubarak to a fifth six-year mandate saw an unprecedented national debate on reform, the legislative polls are a local and personalized affair where votes are lost or won with promises of micro-projects, jobs and bribes.

The state-owned media hailed “the fairest vote in 50 years”.

“Calm and transparency prevailed in the first stage of the vote in eight provinces. Monitors said violations were few and judges prevented vote rigging as security forces were neutral,” the top selling Al Ahram daily said.

The mouthpiece of the embattled Wafd party lashed out at the NDP.

“The government and the NDP carried out serious violations yesterday in the first phase of the parliamentary elections using new techniques to favor their candidates,” it said.

Ayman Nour’s defeat in his Bab Al Shariya constituency will have come as no surprise to his camp, which had been alleging for weeks that the regime was bent on undermining his legitimacy as opposition leader at any cost.

It nevertheless furthers the decline of the 40-year-old lawyer, who rose to international prominence after being remanded in custody for six weeks earlier this year and then conducting an aggressive anti-Mubarak campaign.

The second round of voting is due to kick off on November 20 and all of Egypt’s 26 provinces will have voted by December 7.