7 November 2010
Last week saw candidates lining up for the upcoming elections for the People’s Assembly (PA), the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament. In a few days the candidate lists should be completed and all candidates, whether partisan or independent, should be set to campaign for Egyptians’ votes. Balloting is scheduled for the 28th of this month.
Apart from the cases where votes are controlled by family or clan loyalties, or by money or economic clout, large sectors of votes await the declaration of party or independent candidate platforms—on the political, economic, social, education, and cultural fronts. Voters expect candidates to provide clear visions as to how best to confront the multifarious problems that beset our community; and according to which voters will cast their ballots.
A patriotic duty awaits everyone of us. Heading to the ballot boxes come election day is a responsibility one should carefully prepare for well in advance. Balloting for the mere sake of balloting, without prior preparation, can end up sending to Parliament non-qualified, non-deserving representatives and would be tantamount to sinning against the nation. A good look at previous MPs reveals that several of them forfeited their patriotic duty and got entangled in questionable practices that ended up in their being held legally liable. Others were notorious for loud-voiced, trivial battles with colleagues under the parliamentary dome, or abuse of power. In all cases, the honour of parliamentary representation was severely marred.
We hope to see real change in the climate of the upcoming elections. This should begin with the candidate lists, whether partisan or independent. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate lists were a huge disappointment in previous elections; these lists lacked names qualified for political and parliamentary work, and lacked a reasonable representation of all sectors of the community. Women figured very poorly on the NDP lists, while Copts and young people figured not al all. This time, women will be represented according to the parliamentary quota assigned to them, but how will the other sectors fare? And if this is the case with the mighty NDP, it remains to be seen how the other parties, which have incessantly criticised the NDP, will fare.
The media will undoubtedly have a very significant role to play in campaigning, whether in covering the various campaigns or in airing debates between different candidates. This is a major venue through which voters are familiarised with the various party and candidate platforms. All eyes will be on the media space and time offered to the various candidates; in previous elections the NDP was afforded the lion’s share in the media—especially the State-owned media—with the other parties coming in for a far distant second. This in fact backfired, since voters could see the NDP was into some very undemocratic practices that boded ill for the future.
Predictably, candidate platforms should focus on confronting national challenges before considering local grievances or problems. Voters expect answers to the wider political, economic, and education problems before tackling the problems of individual constituencies. National problems concerning political rights, the right to form political parties, and the rotation of power are as yet unresolved. Egypt’s economic growth and rise in foreign investment has yet to trickle down to the man in the street, and has yet to translate into better employment opportunities and lower prices. And it is a self-evident truth that no future national plan may achieve its objectives without education reform that would produce a modern-minded Egyptian citizen capable of significantly contributing to the national effort and progress.
I do not imagine any credible party or independent platform that would miss tackling the ever-present flawed citizenship rights issue. The National Council for Human Rights and the Journalists Syndicate in a recent convention both highlighted their grave concerns on this head; but this is a separate issue in its own right, which I propose to deal with next week.