Fait accompli?

Fait accompli?

Opposition parties and human rights organisations have complained that the ministries of interior and local development are placing numerous obstacles in the way of those wanting to register as candidates in municipal elections due to be held on 8 April. The seats up for grabs in the municipal elections are estimated at 52,000. The opposition Wafd Party said that only 100 out of a total 1,000 candidates have been able to register. Nasserist Party officials said its candidates found it too difficult to register and that the party might opt to boycott the elections. The leftist Tagammu Party was the only opposition party whose leaders said a number of its 600 candidates were able to register for elections. The Kifaya movement urged parties to boycott the elections in protest against the government”s reported hurdles.

State officials strongly denied any policy aimed at preventing opposition and independent candidates from registering. Minister of State for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Moufid Shehab admitted that there were some administrative obstacles but insisted they were affecting all parties, including the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). On Wednesday, the People”s Assembly turned down two opposition requests aiming at extending the registeration period for a further four days and forming a fact-finding committee concerning the claimed obstacles said to be facing candidates.

The biggest cry regarding registration obstacles, however, came from the parliamentary bloc of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood”s 88 deputies in the People”s Assembly on Monday accused the police of preventing the group”s members from registering.

Brotherhood parliamentary spokesman, Saad El-Katatni, claims that since nominations opened on 4 March more than 700 Muslim Brothers had been arrested. Brotherhood MP Sobhi Saleh further charges that the Interior Ministry has embarked upon a violent campaign intended to intimidate any potential candidates from standing. By Monday, he said, no more than a hundred citizens had been able to register for the elections. “It is clear that orders have been issued at the highest level to ensure that the municipal elections pass without competition.

The latest police campaign against the Brotherhood, though a month old now, escalated following the announcement, made by the group”s Deputy Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib, that it intended to mount a strong challenge to the NDP in the municipal elections. The response was swift. On 6 March the police arrested Mahmoud Ghozlan, a member of the supreme guide”s office, along with 18 of the group”s leading figures in Cairo and Giza. But the escalation in the official campaign against them, said Habib, would not dissuade the Brotherhood from registering candidates to fight in the elections. He blasted the NDP, describing it as addicted to winning by fraud and insisting, “the NDP knows nothing about free and fair competition”.

It is not just the Muslim Brotherhood that is in uproar at the Interior Ministry”s partisan tactics. Leaders of legal opposition parties as well as Kifaya movement also complain that police interference in elections is rampant. Gamal Zahran, independent MP and a professor of political science at Suez Canal University, told Al-Ahram Weekly that ever since the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in winning 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections the regime”s strategy has been to prevent any opposition forces from fielding candidates. “Look at the Shura Council elections last June and the parliamentary by-elections in districts like Cairo”s Al-Manial. The police clearly have instructions to block any possibility of opposition candidates successfully standing.”

Zahran believes the regime is no longer interested even in window dressing. “In the past opposition forces were allowed to run to give a veneer of democracy and the illusion of competition but now even this is viewed as a luxury. The policy is now to prevent opposition forces from registering to stand,” he says.

A statement by the Brotherhood and other independent MPs on Monday slammed the intervention of the police and security agencies in elections as a natural extension of last year”s constitutional amendments eliminating any effective judicial supervision of polls. “Having failed to tackle corruption or contain spiralling inflation the regime is now determined to extinguish the few glimmers of democracy that appeared in 2005,” said the statement. It went on to argue that elections are now among the regime”s greatest bugbears and it is determined to hold them without any opposition candidates standing.

Parliamentary Speaker Fathi Sorour decided to refer the statement to the Assembly”s Committee of National Defence for discussion. The move was criticised by Brotherhood and independent MPs who argue that Interior Minister Habib El-Adli should come to the assembly and defend his ministry”s actions, among which, says Zahran, is the repeated failure to issue documents to opposition candidates stating that they have no criminal record. The document is necessary for anyone to register in the elections. Zahran also alleges that hired thugs have in some cases besieged registration offices and physically attacked potential candidates.

Demonstrations have been organised in several governorates in protest against obstacles to registration and police interference. In Alexandria and Tanta, capital of the Delta governorate of Gharbiya, thousands of activists belonging to the Brotherhood, Kifaya, Wafd, the Nasserist Party and the Bar Association organised street protests and filed lawsuits with the prosecutor-general.

Candidates from the four major opposition parties, the Wafd, Tagammu, Nasserist and Democratic Front, all complain of hostility from the security forces and administrative agencies. Rifaat El-Said, leader of the leftist Tagammu Party, says he has been obliged to repeatedly call the ministers of administrative development and justice simply to facilitate the registration process for opposition nominees. There are press reports that in some districts not a single candidate has been able to register.

Meanwhile, the ruling NDP announced that the 52,000 candidates it intends to field will register just hours before today”s deadline for nominations. Ahmed Ezz, NDP secretary for organisational affairs, claims the decision to approve the last minute submissions is intended to prevent members from running as independents should they discover they have been excluded from the official list of candidates. Opposition forces, however, argue the real intention was to give police forces and administrative agencies sufficient time to weed out any opposition nominees. “When NDP candidates register today,” says Zahran, “they can be sure that they will win for the simple reason no one else will be standing.”

Minister of State for Administrative Development Mohamed Abdel-Salam El-Mahgoub dismisses Brotherhood claims that so far only 100 candidates have been able to register. El-Mahgoub said that as of last Friday 3,680 people had filed nominations, including 31 women. Judicial committees, he added, will begin scrutinising any complaints as soon as the nomination process is over. “On 23 March a final list of candidates will be announced. Elections will then be held on 8 April with judges supervising the main polling stations and vote-counting committees.”