Polling pretence

Polling pretence

Reporting on the recent Iranian elections, Egyptian media said that the outcome was decided beforehand, noting that the Guardian Council had banned many candidates because of their political views. In other words, the Iranian elections were flawed because opponents were excluded from the race.

In Egypt, the registration of candidates for local elections ended a few days ago amid signs of state interference designed to control the outcome. Now the National Democratic Party is running against itself, heading for a landslide that will only reinforce its sense of self- importance. That the country is brimming over with trouble, plodding on from one disaster to another, doesn”t seem to worry anyone.

In both Iran and Egypt, the system of elections has been corrupted to ensure that the outcome is known beforehand. But the Iranians do it with more finesse. There, the Guardian Council makes sure that no undesirable candidates are admitted to the race. Once that”s done, polling takes place in full freedom, with no police barricades to be seen, no detentions, no brutalisation and no fraud. This is why Iran has a turnout of 65 per cent, something we”re not going to see anytime soon in this country.

The Egyptians go for the heavy-handed way. Unwanted candidates are kept away by crude and erratic means. Some are detained. Others are not allowed to submit their applications. Others are dispersed by the riot police.

Experts say that what we have in Egypt is a type of “restricted democracy”, a backward form of democracy nearly extinct across the world. The aim of such a practice is to create an illusion of pluralism, complete with parliaments and even a smattering of free speech. But no freedom is allowed that may threaten the grip on power of the ruling party. A semblance of regularity is maintained. Certain props are used just to maintain a façade of normalcy and mask the reality of despotism at home.

The elections in Egypt are degraded on purpose. The aim of our “restricted democracy” is to let us know that the right of running for office is not universal. The aim is to let voters know that their preferences don”t really matter.

Those in charge often justify their undemocratic practices by claiming that Egyptians are not yet ready for freedom. They claim that the country should focus exclusively on economic development and the elimination of poverty. They argue that bread is more important than freedom. So maybe there is a connection after all between chaos at the breadlines and mayhem at polling centres.

The Egyptian government was incensed by US remarks about human rights conditions here. It was outraged by what a US spokesman said about repressive measures undertaken during local elections. It”s fine to be angry, but that doesn”t mean that the accusations were untrue. There is no denying that elections are being manipulated beyond recognition. And there is no denying that the absence of democracy and good governance is wreaking havoc on the entire nation.

There is no point pretending that we have democracy when we have none. There is no point wasting time and effort on something we don”t truly wish to have. Unless we”re ready to hold true elections and abide by their outcome, it”s perhaps better not to have elections at all.