12 December 2010
Now that the elections for the People’s Assembly (PA)—Egypt’s lower house of Parliament—are over, Egypt has a brand new PA for the coming five years. The new PA has a National Democratic Party (NDP) sweeping majority, which makes it fair to term it the ‘National’ PA. As to how the NDP managed to secure such a wide majority at the polls and come up so far ahead of the other parties and independent candidates, I think it wiser not to jump to conclusions but to wait for the election monitors’ reports.
Now that the NDP has secured full supremacy in the PA, guaranteeing absolute hegemony over Egypt’s legislative arena, I imagine the party is glowing with joy. Can there be, amidst all the rejoicing, some wise, reasonable voice that would assess how this sweeping victory implicates the [absent] balance between majority and opposition in the PA? It is obvious the majority party’s political intellect needs to be tamed, and the tools governing the electoral process developed, to escape the single-party-parliament trap—a trap reminiscent of a monodrama in a theatre of the absurd.
I am not casting doubts on the NDP’s distinction, but neither am I discounting the ability of the other parties to compete with it. But I do miss the political maturity that manifests itself in pluralism and diverse representation in elected councils. Only thus can fair representation of the various sectors and different political trends in the community be secured, inevitably leading to democracy and open dialogue and debate. And only then can the legislative authority play an effective role in legislation and in monitoring the performance of the executive authority.
Accordingly, it is not possible to interpret the so-called NDP’s extensive triumph at the polls or what its leaders call the failure of the other parties to garner votes as real victory —because it is not. Securing parliamentary hegemony is not analogous to a student scoring the full mark in an examination. A healthy parliament should be governed by political thought that strives to gain a reassuring majority to ensure stability on the legislative road. It should be happy to provide a climate where plans may be hatched and programmes carried out amid enthusiastic, diverse participation, and within an acceptable margin of opposition. Such a situation works in the benefit of the majority party and the national welfare, since it guarantees the legislative outcome is the product of meticulously discussed studies and debates that withstood healthy opposition.
How are Egyptians to believe that Parliament, whose duty it is to assess government performance and take executives to account, can do so objectively, if Parliament is dominated by members of the very same government or ruling regime it is to take to account? Now that the opposition has been sidelined, the optimistic among us are wondering about the all but impossible task which should be shouldered by the majority: that of acting both as majority and opposition. Will they be able to carry out the tricky task, or will their loyalty to their party take over?
Have Egyptians emerged from the last elections more convinced than ever that political participation is essential and that their votes carry enormous weight in running their country? I will not answer this question before reading the reports issued by the human rights centres and the other authorities that monitored the elections.
Many are the legislative challenges that await the new PA; starting with rectifying the electoral system in order to allow for a slate system as opposed to the current individual one, and through to the consolidation of full citizenship rights. The inevitability and urgency of these issues in the upcoming parliamentary round is sure to generate ongoing debate.