Blessing in disguise?

13-12-2014 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

The delay in parliamentary elections

Had the political leadership abided by the time frame set by the Roadmap, the Supreme Parliamentary Elections Committee (SPEC) would have announced last October the start of the process of parliamentary elections. The Roadmap was jointly drawn in July 2013 by representatives of the various sectors of the Egyptian society to chart the course Egypt would follow to achieve democracy; it was set directly following the overthrow of President Muhammad Mursi’s post-Arab Spring Islamist regime. Back then, mass public revolt against the Islamists led the military to intervene; the Islamists were overthrown and the Roadmap drawn. So far, Egypt has instituted a new Constitution which confirms it as a civil State, and elected the moderate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as President. Now it remains for the country to elect a parliament.

Had the Roadmap gone as planned, Egypt would have today been in the thick of electoral campaigning for the first of three phases of parliamentary elections. But nothing of the sort is going on, and the political scene appears ambiguous and confused. The SPEC is still working on a meticulous revision of electoral constituencies, with the objective of ensuring fair representation basing on geographic, administrative and population density factors. It is striving to save the new parliament of claims of non-constitutionality as had plagued the Islamist post-Arab Spring parliament.
The upcoming parliament is of supreme importance. As the first parliament after the 2014 Constitution, it shoulders the momentous task of enacting legislation that would make the reform stipulated by the Constitution a fact on the ground. The absolute majority will be assigned with forming the Cabinet which, according to the Constitution, holds unprecedented wide powers; it takes Egypt from the presidential republic that had extended over some six decades (1952 – 2014) to a presidential parliamentary republic where authorities are divided between the President and the Premier.

For now, even as the SPEC struggles with the groundwork, attempts to create strong electoral coalitions capable of garnering the largest number of parliamentary seats are dominating the political arena. But this arena obviously lacks the political maturity to produce strong parliamentary candidates, and the upcoming parliament looks as yet featureless and undefined. The stumbling, delays, and postponements make for a scene rife with speculation and rumour. Instead of preparing for the elections and familiarising themselves with the various options on the political scene, Egyptians are puzzled at and apprehensive of the choices that will be open to them come election day. Many fear they will not be sufficiently informed to make a sound choice. A large portion would thus ‘play it safe’ and refrain from voting altogether. The blurred vision and the short period between the drawing of constituencies and the formation of strong political coalitions do not make for sound election choices. Then we would lament the low turnout.

It is very sad that most voters are unaware of the candidates contesting the elections in their constituencies—that is if they know to which constituency they belong in the first place. This means they will probably vote for the names whispered in their ears by those who actively endorse one or other of the candidates, and who always claim to be all-knowing; the entire situation turns into some ceremonial, farcical practice. The candidates who stand the most chance are those backed by significant clan loyalty in Egypt’s provincial areas, since they are well known within their constituencies and their voting blocs; political parties and coalitions stand next to no chance there. This explains the traditional hegemony over parliamentary seats by the large families and clans in the country’s provinces. The problem is that such lawmakers look after their special, narrow interests rather than those of the entire nation.

Given these on the ground facts, should we be enraged at the delay in parliamentary elections? I think not. I believe we’re better off taking our time; we cannot afford to rush into parliamentary elections while we are, to put it mildly, in this delicate position. Rumours circulate that the current authorities are deliberately procrastinating before opening the door for candidacy, for fear of the division, fragmentation and bargaining which still dominate the political scene, and which create a vacuum that only the so far missing strong coalitions can fill. The open secret is that no one can tolerate the risk of Egypt being once more hijacked by the Islamists. Despite being a political minority today, they are an organised minority that aims to sneak into parliament even as the other contenders fight over dividing the cake. The organised minority will then swallow the largest part of the cake, while all the others get tiny tidbits and wail, lamenting their luck. But it shouldn’t be their stars they lament but their utter failure.

Watani International
14 December 2014

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