• November 11, 2005
  • 6 minutes read

Money talks as candidates walk

Money talks as candidates walk

Money talks as candidates walk
The lead up to this year’s polls featured a mix of both newer and more traditional methods of campaigning. Mustafa El-Menshawy reports

Campaigning for this year’s parliamentary polls was all about money. Candidates spent bundles on everything from banners and billboards, to ads in the papers and on TV, to a variety of "gifts" for the voters in their constituencies.

Although the officially sanctioned limit on campaign spending is LE70,000 per candidate, many acknowledge that the rule is rarely applied. A five-minute spot on TV, after all, averages LE20,000, while a one-page advertisement in a mass-circulation daily newspaper can cost more than LE160,000. A high-quality billboard costs almost LE1,000. "That makes it unfair, since those with more money will always have the upper hand when it comes to campaigning," said Dina Gamil, who was campaigning for Kamal Khalil, a socialist candidate in the Cairo constituency of Imbaba. According to Gamil, Khalil spent some LE45,000 on his campaign, while other candidates in the same constituency spent millions of pounds.

Khalil’s campaign team admitted that his chances of winning a seat are slim. They said the United National Front for Change, of which Khalil is a member, had no financial resources to support him. In contrast, the ruling National Democratic Party reportedly provides its candidates with some LE50,000 each.

Opposition candidates like Khalil have also complained about the government meddling in the campaigns themselves. "Thirty of my billboards were removed from the street, and two of my supporters were hit and arrested by police for no reason," a seething Khalil told a rally last week. He blamed "ruling party thugs" for the harassment.

Although other independent and opposition candidates also said their billboards were torn apart, and their supporters intimidated by police, Hossam Badrawi, a member of the NDP’s Policies Committee and a candidate in the Qasr Al-Nil constituency, described the claims as "no more than elections tactics".

In any case, the campaigns featured a variety of other, more legitimate tactics. One novel form of campaigning took place on the Internet. The Muslim Brotherhood, which fielded about 50 candidates, seemed to be the most proficient at online campaigning. The outlawed group — which has trouble getting its message onto the state-affiliated media — said it sent out some eight million e-mails detailing its candidates and platforms.

When it comes to their campaign, the Brotherhood appears to be taking full advantage of the recent opening up of the political process. Posters for Brotherhood candidates are plastered on walls across the country. In the past, the group’s candidates disguised their allegiance by identifying themselves as members of the "Islamic trend"; this time around, their posters now openly proclaim their allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, and use the group’s slogan "Islam is the solution".

The Brotherhood has also been doing a great deal of grassroots campaigning as well. On Monday, thousands of the group’s supporters took to the streets in Nasr City, an eastern suburb of Cairo, to rally support for two Brotherhood candidates. As they shouted slogans and raised banners, the march ended up causing a terrible traffic jam that extended to Downtown. "How can these candidates say they want to help us, while at the same time, create this kind of mess that disturbs our life," murmured an angry driver stuck in the jam caused by the Brotherhood rally.

Candidates have employed a variety of methods to reach out to constituents. One Cairo- based candidate sponsored a concert in his district featuring pop singer Shaaban Abdel-Rahim and a belly dancer. Others distributed videotapes and CDs expounding their views, and the services they had provided, or would be providing, to their constituencies.

Some went door-to-door, with residents of many districts surprised to find candidates asking for a few minutes of their time to explain their platforms.

More traditional methods of campaigning are still being used as well. These include candidates seeking support at cafés, or by walking in the streets and shaking hands with passers-by and encouraging vendors to vote for them. Candidates have also been distributing small gifts, like pens, to potential voters. Other, more blatant bribes — from giving away mobile phones and meat, to paying poor constituents’ phone bills — have also been reported.

In Muharram Bek, where a building collapsed last week killing eight people, Muslim Brotherhood and NDP candidates competed to provide support and aid to the survivors, and pay the funeral expenses of the victims. "We were the first on the scene after the building fell down," said Osama Gadu, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate. "We cleared the rubble and gave financial aid to the family of the victims." Supporters of the ruling party’s candidate made similar statements.

Interestingly enough, the least attention seemed to be on the actual substance of what these would-be parliamentarians would do if elected. While many a campaign, for instance, seemed to focus on unemployment, a major voter concern, many voters saw the rhetoric being delivered as full of promises without concrete details of how they would be kept. It was only natural, then, for many voters to be sceptical. "They come to us every five years, spending millions on their campaigns and promising us a world of services. After they win, we never see them again," said Mohamed Soleiman of Imbaba. "They only want to serve their own interests."