Elections monitor: Between participation and boycott, opposition parties are divided

A political party’s decision to boycott elections is an indication of its bankruptcy and lack of popularity, writes Sayyid al-Naggar on state-run Al-Akhbar’s opinion page. Parties that boycott elections, al-Naggar argues, are concealing their weaknesses–such as their lack of clear vision and public presence–behind the cloak of a boycott. If they were truly committed to democratic reform, they should seek it through legal means in parliament, he continues. 

Concerns over the integrity of the 2010 elections have not only divided the Egyptian political scene into boycotting and participating parties, however, they have fueled internal rifts within opposition parties and movements.

Several Wafd party leaders have decided to boycott the upcoming elections despite the party's official decision to participate, according to a report that occupies half of privately-owned Al-Shorouk’s elections page. The most prominent boycotting figures include current MP Allam Abdul Moneim, assistant secretary general Hussein Mansour, and member of the politburo Essam Shiha.

In a statement justifying his decision, Abdul Moneim told his constituency “the absence of judicial monitoring in the upcoming elections has resulted in things that that cannot be described in polite terms. Everyone who has two eyes can see that the situation in 2010 is different than in 2000 and 2005.” Other candidates stressed the need for exorbitant campaign coffers in successful candidacies.

The leftist Tagammu party is facing similar internal dissension, reports state-run Rose Al Youssef. According to the paper's coverage, the party’s boycotting wing is shrinking as three additional party figures, including party secretary in Gharbiya Abdul Ghafar Saber, have decided to join other participating members. The boycott contingent has said the participating group represents only itself and has launched a campaign to collect signatures to remove confidence from Saber.

Privately-owned Al-Wafd dedicates an entire page to an interview with head of the boycotting Democratic Front Party, Ossama al-Ghazali Harb. Harb argues that his party is not boycotting the principle of elections, but simply elections at this particular time. He says boycotting is not foreign to Egyptian history and that the party’s decision to boycott this year’s elections is an attempt to pressure the government to institute electoral integrity guarantees. But since these demands have not been heeded, the Democratic Front viewed participation as an act of support for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Habr says. According to Harb, change can only come through elections in democratic regimes, and that boycotting can be used as a tool to connect with constituencies. 

In other news, NDP-Muslim Brotherhood competition, internal NDP competition, and concerns over election integrity continue to receive significant attention.

The NDP has simultaneously accused candidates of abusing religious symbols for electoral purposes and resorted to two religious scholars to combat the “outlawed” Muslim Brotherhood group in Giza. State-run Al Ahram reports that the NDP’s “religious duet” comprises a popular preacher and a ma’thun, competing against MB candidates Azab Mostafa in Kesm Giza and Hatem Abdul Wahab in Haram and Omraniya, respectively.

Another report by Al-Ahram warns that Minister of Municipal Development Abdul Salam Mahgoub–NDP candidate in the Raml district of Alexandria–has penetrated MB regions via his weekly medical caravans. Mahgoub will be competing with Sobhi Saleh, a member of the Brotherhood and the district’s current representative in the people’s assembly. According to Al-Ahram’s report, Abdul Mahgoub’s candidacy has caused “panic” for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a telling story on NDP internal competition, Al-Shorouk reports that 3565 members of the NDP unit in Balana, the largest village in Nasr Noba, Aswan have collectively resigned, protesting the party’s decision to prohibit the Arab sector (which has 30% representation in the unit and 40% representation in voter registries) to head Balana’s local popular council. The four sectors have traditionally agreed to rotate the presidency of the local popular council every year, but resigning members were struck by the “discriminatory” decision not to allow Arabs to head the council this year. Resigning members collectively boycotted NDP internal elections in Balana, causing a “scandal” for the NDP.

The NDP has also reopened the door to candidacy in its internal elections in Wadi Gadid to allow for the absorption of aggrieved candidates who might otherwise run as independents, according Al-Ahram.

With regards to concerns over electoral transgressions, Ashraf al-Barbari, writing for Al-Shorouk, laments the fact that Egyptians have become so accustomed to the NDP’s expedient abuse of state institutions, they consider it “fate.” The electoral commission's silence on these transgressions indicates its complicity, argues al-Barbari. At the same time, however, members of the electoral commission cannot be expected to easily shed 30 years of no separation between the state and the NDP.

In a similar vein, Al-Shorouk reports on its front-page that Qadi al-Sayyid Abdul Aziz–head of Cairo’s Court of Appeals and president of the Supreme Electoral Commission–announced that government ministries will be responsible for selecting the 200,000 employees required to head and staff secondary electoral committees, responsible for overseeing ballot boxes and vote counting. The electoral commission will require government agencies to ensure that selected employees do not serve this role in their own districts, and that they no family ties to candidates. The law mandates that judges head general committees, responsible for announcing election results.

Finally, President Mubarak issued a presidential decision yesterday calling on voters to participate in the people’s assembly elections on 28 November (repeat elections will be held on 5 December). The newly-elected people’s assembly will hold its first session on 13 December.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

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