Ex-director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El-Baradei’s calls for an election boycott have been rejected by most of the opposition. The three main members of the Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP) — the Wafd, Tagammu and the Arab Nasserists — announced that they will participate in November’s People Assembly’s polls, rejecting the National Assembly for Change’s (NAC) 9 September demand that all effective opposition movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, work together to boycott “upcoming sham elections” in order to “isolate the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) regime and put national interests ahead of personal ones”.
Outgoing NAC coordinator-general and Cairo University political science professor Hassan Nafaa attacked CEOP members, especially the Wafd, alleging that “their decision in favour of participation was prompted by a secret deal with the NDP which will allow them to win more seats in the next parliament”. Wafd’s chairman, El-Sayed El-Badawi, responded by accusing Nafaa of trying to “terrorise the Wafd and CEOP members to change their positions and join El-Baradei’s boycott”.
“Opposition parties that are willing to enter into secret deals with the regime could easily end up suffering a slow death,” warned Nafaa.
On 17 September, 504 members — or 56.7 per cent — of the General Assembly of Wafd voted in favour of participation, while 407 opted for a boycott. El-Badawi said “the results of the vote sent a clear message that the Wafd will actively participate in the next parliamentary polls and become a strong rival to the ruling NDP”. But he also warned that “the results carry another message”.
“The Wafd will never forgive any rigging of the poll. The ballot box should be an instrument for the rotation of power. The fact that 43.3 per cent of Wafdists voted in favour of boycott makes clear that guarantees ensuring the integrity of November’s polls are still insufficient.”
A majority of Wafd members were committed to participation in the polls, said El-Badawi, “because they believe that boycott represents political suicide”.
“In the 1980s, before we boycotted elections in 1990, we had more than 30 seats in parliament,” he argued. “The boycott had a heavy price, When we took part in the 1995 elections we were reduced to five seats.”
“Political parties,” he continued, “are created to contest elections and compete for power. In this respect they differ from civil society associations and movements like the NAC which call for boycott.”
“If we had opted for another boycott we would have been further isolated from the political scene,” El-Badawi argued. “That was why I, along with other leaders — former Wafd chairman Mahmoud Abaza, current deputy chairman Fouad Badrawi, secretary-general Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour and the chairman’s political adviser Bahaa Abu Shoka — all voted in favour of participation.”
El-Badawi stressed that apart from the Democratic Front all CEOP members will be taking part in the poll.
“The Wafd, Tagammu and Arab Nasserists have all agreed to participate. We are still waiting for a final decision from the Democratic Front. When they make up their mind we can see if an election campaign can be orchestrated by all CEOP members.”
The Wafd’s election campaign will be launched on 1 October.
“We are planning a massive media campaign to promote our candidates on television channels and in newspapers,” said El-Badawi. “More than 250 Wafd members have registered as possible candidates. A final list of those standing will be announced on 25 October.”
While El-Badawi declined to forecast “how many seats the Wafd will win”, he believes ” the NDP will be content to secure a majority, leaving between 120 and 125 seats to opposition forces”.
The Wafd’s vote gave a green light to other CEOP members. The Tagammu, led by old-guard leftist activist Rifaat El-Said, will hold a conference next week to announce details of its own participation in the coming polls.
El-Said criticised El-Baradei and the NAC for their boycott calls.
“El-Baradei and the NAC attempted to impose their own position on political parties, ignoring the fact that parties differ from NGOs and political groups like the NAC which are focussed on short- term political goals.”
El-Said argued that the polls represent an opportunity for political parties to energise their rank-and-file and communicate with grassroots supporters. Al-Ahali, the Tagammu’s weekly mouthpiece, announced that a preliminary list of 46 candidates was already prepared but that “when the election campaign kicks off the number of candidates on the list could be increased.”
The Arab Nasserist Party had made its intention to contest November’s parliamentary elections clear some time ago.
“We were sure that the ruling NDP would refuse opposition demands for election guarantees but decided to participate anyway,” Ahmed Hassan, secretary-general of the Nasserists, said. He indicated that the party’s initial list of 40 candidates could be increased to 60.
“We face a shortage of funds. That makes it difficult to field a bigger number of candidates,” said Hassan.
MP Saad El-Husseini, a member of Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the Wafd’s position makes it clear a majority of political parties have opted for participation in the polls”.
“The Brotherhood,” he said, “is now unlikely to opt for a boycott.”
The Wafd vote in favour of participation came two days after the ruling NDP responded to written demands by CEOP members for greater election guarantees.
“The NDP rejected most of the opposition’s demands and found it enough to give a polite response,” says El-Said.
It was the failure to strengthen guarantees that the elections would be free and fair, claimed El-Badawi, that led 43.3 per cent of Wafd members to vote for a boycott.