Election lockdown to prepare ground for 2011 presidential vote
With the opposition muzzled and a turnout predicted to be extremely low, the ruling NDP party is going to clean up in Sunday’s legislative elections, preparing the ground for presidential elections next year.
Two things are certain as Egypt votes in parliamentary elections on Sunday - voter turnout is going to be abysmally low and the result will be a landslide victory for President Hosni Mubarak.
Amid concerns about violence, fraud, a boycott called by a number of parties and the absence of any serious debate on political issues, only 20 percent of voters have even bothered to pick up their registration cards.
Candidates banned, vote continues regardless
In some constituencies the result has been handed to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) on a plate.
Egyptian courts had annulled voting in 24 constituencies because of “irregularities”. Opposition candidates (mostly affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood) have had their applications annulled for no stated reason.
The NDP successfully appealed the cancellations - and as a result, the vote will go ahead, maintaining the illusion of a free election.
A divided opposition
Meanwhile, the opposition is fractured and disorganised, in the face of the highly organised ruling NDP.
The opposition can be divided roughly into two groups.
Those parties that are boycotting the poll – particularly those who support former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Mohammed ElBaradei – believe that whatever the result, the elections will not be legitimate.
Then there is the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned (but tolerated) party for which almost all the candidates are standing as “independents”.
The Brotherhood has 130 candidates and currently has 88 seats. They are expecting to lose many of these on Sunday.
‘Blatantly rigged’ elections
“What we are seeing are elections that are being blatantly rigged,” said prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader Saad al-Katatni at a press conference on Monday.
He pointed out that since early October 1,200 members of the Brotherhood have been arrested and 500 are still behind bars. Some 250 have been arrested this week.
“The things that are happening are beyond imagination,” he said.
“In 2005 the government let some of the pressure off, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to make some gains,” CNRS research fellow Jean-Noel Ferrie told FRANCE 24.
But not this time – the vote is under total control of the authorities.
“Votes have been bought and some polling stations have cordons in front of them to stop people getting in,” said Jean-Noel Ferrie.
“It will take a certain amount of special effects, but the key is that all this remains invisible in the media.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif promised a "free and transparent" election. Yet Mubarak has refused to allow any international observers into the country.
"Several satellite TV channels have been taken off air," Walid Abbas, Egyptian journalist for Monte Carlo Doualiya, told FRANCE 24.
He added that opposition newspaper Al-Dostour was recently bought by the leader of another party, al-Wafd, who immediately sacked its editor. This party is strongly suspected of being in the pay of Mubarak’s NDP.
The issues lost in the battle for total control
Some important economic and political issues need to be resolved.
The minimum wage was recently lifted to 400 Egyptian pounds per month (52 euros), but inflation is running at 12 percent and sharp rises in commodity prices have led to outbreaks of violence.
Despite five years of economic reforms, 40 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. Unemployment is reportedly at twice the official rate of 10 percent.
These important economic issues have been put on the backburner because of upcoming the presidential election in 2011.
Mubarak, who has been president for 29 years and may hand over the reins of power to his son Gamal next year, needs his NPD party to maintain a veneer of stability with a strong parliamentary majority.
To do that, he needs to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood as much as possible.
“The Brotherhood as a minority party has no real power to damage the NPD, but they are an irritant,” said Jean-Noel Ferrie. “This is about comfort. Mubarak wants to approach the presidential election next year with a large majority.”