• November 10, 2005
  • 7 minutes read

Egyptians to start voting for new parliament

Egyptians to start voting for new parliament

Egyptians to start voting for new parliament

By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt holds the first stage of parliamentary elections on Wednesday that could decide who can run for president in the Arab world’s most populous nation during the next five years.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which had more than 85 percent of the seats in the old parliament, is expected to win a large majority, just as President Hosni Mubarak won 89 percent in the first contested presidential polls in September.

But opposition parties have an incentive to fight hard because they need at least 23 seats to retain the right to field a presidential candidate during the next parliament’s term. Mubarak has been in power since 1981.

Mubarak’s son Gamal, 41, was prominent in the NDP’s parliamentary campaign, further building his image as one of Egypt’s most influential men and a possible future president.

Opposition to the NDP comes mainly from the Muslim Brotherhood, moderate Islamists who run as independents because the authorities have refused to let them form a party.

Independent groups are mounting the most intensive monitoring operation seen in Egypt, where previous polls have involved violence and fraud, including ballot stuffing, multiple voting and abuse of state resources in favour of the NDP.

Despite street protests this year and some changes in the rules of Egyptian politics, public interest in the elections has been muted and turnout is expected to be low.


Voters in Cairo, the central provinces and two remote areas will choose between some 1,500 candidates competing for 184 of the 444 elected seats in the lower house of parliament.

Other parts of the country will vote on November 20 and December 1, with second round run-offs six days later. The final result may not come out until the middle of December.

This year’s parliamentary campaign has been relatively peaceful. No deaths have been reported and civil society groups say security forces have generally not taken sides.

But polling day is traditionally the most violent and one party official said NDP supporters attacked two workers from his party in the Cairo suburb of Embaba on Monday.

"The fear is that this … is a taste of things to come," said Wael Khalil, spokesman for a socialist candidate.

NDP officials say they want a solid parliamentary majority to push through changes that Mubarak promised in his presidential campaign, such as job creation programmes, investment promotion and abolition of emergency laws.

But uncertainly about the succession to Mubarak, 77, hangs over the election because of new constitutional rules for presidential candidates.

Nine politicians were able to challenge Mubarak in the September presidential elections, but next time round the opposition will have to fulfil tough conditions which none of them could meet now.

Gamal’s prominence in the NDP campaign has added to speculation the first family is planning a constitutionally correct succession, possibly before Mubarak’s fifth six-year term ends in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood has about 150 candidates and was already the largest single opposition group in the outgoing parliament.

Secular opposition groups, ranging from liberals to leftists and Arab nationalists, have formed a separate alliance, fielding joint candidates for half the seats.

But in a country where many people vote for someone to bring them government resources rather than for a specific ideology, the opposition finds it hard to convince people they can do a better job than the ruling party.

"We want someone … who gives to the poor, helps the sick and provides jobs for our youth," said Milad Nadim Wadia, a 26-year-old plumber attending an election rally.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Amil Khan)