Wise after the event

Wise after the event
By Salama A Salama

To introduce a law fining those who fail to vote was not the wisest thing to do. Nor, given that 75 per cent of registered voters did not take part in the presidential elections, has it had the slightest effect. Such policies are only imposed in Third World countries, where people are led by intimidation rather than persuasion. Elsewhere coercion isn’t needed to get voters out. When people are convinced their vote has a value, that it does have an impact on determining their fate, then they will cast it with or without the threat of a fine.

The most immediate challenge is to get people to vote in November’s parliamentary elections. If the turnout is as low as last week’s then the NDP and other political parties will have no alternative but to resort to the old method of fixing returns. The result will be a People’s Assembly with all the current flaws.

Nor was it the wisest thing for Noaman Gomaa to renege on the agreement he had made with other opposition parties not to field candidates in the presidential elections. The Wafd Party chief had been an outspoken critic of the amendments to Article 76. Then, to the public’s surprise and in spite of his contention that the presidential elections would be pointless, he suddenly announced his candidacy, placing the venerable Wafd on an equal footing with a motley collection of chimerical parties and giving the impression that he had struck some deal with the NDP. Little wonder he emerged with so few votes.

And what of the interventions by the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Coptic pope on behalf of the NDP candidate? Maybe these two religious figures really do feel indebted to Hosni Mubarak. The method they chose to express their gratitude, though, demeaned the religious institutions they head and embroiled them in affairs from which they should have remained aloof. In a democracy religion should be kept separate from the state. It is a principle the government applies to the Muslim Brotherhood and should have applied as strictly to itself. Not only were the actions of these two religious leaders unwise, but they set a bleak precedent for democracy in our country.

Casting a look back over the whole experience of the presidential elections one would also have to admit that allowing the heads of political parties that have no real political presence to compete was foolhardy. True, this is the first and last time it will happen given the provisions of the amendment to Article 76. The result was a circus-like atmosphere demeaning to the office of the presidency and inappropriate to the goals of a political experiment of such importance and potential consequence.

Measures must be taken to place matters back on course so we can forge ahead with the process of democratisation for the small doses we have been drip-fed so far will soon lose their efficacy. We must not ignore electoral irregularities on the grounds that they happen elsewhere, or the low voter turnout rate on the grounds that it was about the same as in previous polls. Such an attitude can only undermine the political reforms President Mubarak pledged he will enact should he be elected. It is one thing to congratulate ourselves for something we have actually accomplished, quite another to pretend we have accomplished something when we have not.