egypt: Controversial local elections
egypt: Controversial local elections
Thursday, April 17,2008 20:08

The vote was a shoo-in for the ruling National Democratic Party following a sweeping clampdown on the opposition, but the regime was under mounting pressure after two days of unrest centered on the city of Mahalla al-Kubra, where a 15-year-old boy was shot dead during the violence on Tuesday.Only 30 percent of seats were being contested, the official MENA news agency said, as the NDP had already won 70 percent unopposed. Results would be announced on Wednesday and over five successive days.

Police were stationed outside Cairo polling stations, with MENA saying the Interior Ministry had set up “a tight security plan... to guard the polling stations from the outside”.
The NDP was fielding a candidate for every one of the 52,000 council seats up for grabs.
“I’ve come to vote in

 the hope of having a life that’s less hard, with no bread problems”, Mohammed Abdelmeguid, 28, told reporters at a Cairo polling station. “We hope that these elections will change things a bit, if they’re not rigged like the others when the NDP has always won”.
These local elections have an unprecedented importance following a 2005 constitutional amendment requiring presidential candidates to secure the backing of local councillors.Parties with presidential ambitions, including the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood, whose members sit in Parliament as independents, now need the support of at least 10 members of every local council in at least 14 provinces to stand.

The next presidential election is set for 2011, with many expecting the veteran 79-year-old Mubarak to stand down in favor of his son and senior NDP member Gamal Mubarak.The Islamist party had been due to field just 21 candidates out of around 4,000 they originally put forward after a wide-ranging government crackdown left many would-be candidates behind bars or blocked from registering.

In response, the Brotherhood announced a boycott and called on all Egyptians to follow suit.“We have decided to boycott the municipal elections, to withdraw our candidates and to appeal to the people not to vote”, the deputy head of the Brotherhood’s bloc in Parliament, Hussein Ibrahim, told journalists.He said the authorities had used “illegal and immoral means” to exclude Brotherhood candidates, including “the arrest of 1,000 members, administrative obstacles to candidates registering and using prisoners as hostages”.

“We will continue to fight politically and legally to invalidate the municipal elections if they are held”, the Brotherhood’s supreme leader, Mohammad Mahdi Akef, said last Monday.
The group has said the government is eager to avoid another electoral setback after the Brotherhood won 20 percent of seats in Parliament in the November 2005 legislative election.The municipal polls were postponed for two years in 2006 in what observers said was a way to avoid another success for the Brotherhood.

Press reports have said only 700 out of 1,700 members of the opposition liberal Wafd Party were able to register, as well as some 400 members of the left-leaning Tagammu Party, amid complaints of obstacles ranging from bureaucratic hurdles to physical assaults at registration stations.International organizations have condemned the government’s crackdown against opposition candidates.