Parliament: names, names, names

19-09-2015 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Political parties in Egypt have long insisted that sound democratic practice pre-requires healthy, dynamic parties. This, they always claimed, would root partisan politics and create political competition based on different ideologies and platforms. Such a principle starkly contrasts with political systems based on the appeal and influence of individual politicians.
Were the party scene in Egypt to answer the requirements claimed by the political parties, Egyptians would have no difficulty in making political choices. They would be able to easily decide which political party to join, what political platform to support and, finally, who to elect as representatives in the upcoming parliament. In various democratic countries, election results are reported to denote which political streams win, not which specific individuals. It is obviously the left, right, or centre streams, the coalitions and voter inclinations that shape the political scene and determine voter preferences.
For the public, an individual politician’s worth is measured in the major part by the political perspectives of the party he or she belongs too, that is unless the matter concerns competition for the head position in the party or internal party politics. In case of representative council elections or general political activity, a candidate is assessed in principle according to the party he or she represents.
With Egypt on the threshold of elections that should give the country the first parliament after the January 2014 Constitution, where do we stand? The 2014 Constitution was drafted when Egyptians in July 2013 rid their country of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood rule that came in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring. The facts on the ground indicate the current existence of a large number of parties with no obvious political inclination, no well-defined platform, and no real presence on the Egyptian street. On the other hand, a huge number of individual candidates are running in the elections as independents. In most cases, the character and inclinations of these candidates are not known to large swaths of the public; it is not even known whether or not they belong to any specific party or only represent themselves. Predictably, these candidates vociferously propagandise themselves, but the voter is left with no clear measure to assess them; they are just names, names, names…nothing but names.
We should be sufficiently candid to roundly admit that Egypt is way behind on democratic partisanship. We are inundated with some 90 political parties, but the majority have no clear agenda or perspective. This means we are still farther than ever from political plurality or maturity. The feeble and fragile political scene leaves voters in the most part lost and unable to make a reasonable decision on who to represent them in parliament. The fact that independent candidates run depending on their names means we have gone back to the times when political heft was subject to influential clan and family loyalty rather than the national or political perspective of the candidate.
For anyone who does not grasp the electioneering scene, let me give the following explanation. In any given constituency, how does a voter choose to cast his or her vote? The candidate lists of coalitions that go under the names “For the Love of Egypt”, “The Independent National Renaissance”, “Egypt, My Country”, “Egypt’s Renaissance”, and other similar ones have no clear political or ideological distinction, nor does any of them offer a platform different from the others. They all carry sparkling, patriotic, incontestable mottos and include candidates who are public figures with luminary resumes and resounding names. So, again, how is a voter to make a choice of who represents him or her? With the differences between candidates faded out, the only measure is that of personal whim. One has just to join any private gathering in Egypt to find out this first hand. This is the case in Cairo and the big towns but in the small towns and villages voters assess candidates according to which tribe, clan, or family they come from.
With all this in mind, one has to admit that the result of the upcoming elections can in no way be predicted. We will go to the polls to perform our national duty as we wait, almost clueless, for the outcome of the elections. Will the new parliament feature a leading majority and strong opposition? Will it fulfil the role expected of it? The answers hinge on names, names, and nothing but names.

Watani International
20 September 2015

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