Political parties: pitifully fragmented

12-09-2015 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold


My heart goes out to those Egyptians who are still keen to go to the polls in the upcoming parliamentary elections, those whose sense of patriotism would not let them give up on the elections. Others have grown sick of the futile clamour on the political party scene, and have decided to boycott the elections altogether.

We have been preparing for the parliamentary elections for the past year and a half. The elections law has been passed and the scene prepared for balloting following several postponements. The parties should have seized the opportunity to make sure they are in good shape come election day. They should have arranged their ranks and formed with other parties coalitions to contest the elections from a vantage point. Yet none of this took place, and the grim party scene remains rife with internal and inter-party conflict.

On 15 June 2014, after the elections law was issued, I wrote that we must all carefully prepare for the balloting, with the aim of electing a strong balanced parliament that would shoulder the responsibility of translating the new Constitution into laws and achieving the legislative reform Egypt needs. No sooner had I written this than news circulated of the breakdown of the first electoral coalition that had succeeded in capturing the imagination of Egyptians. That coalition of liberal political parties and movements had been formed under the leadership of former Arab League chief Amr Moussa who had also been head of the Committee of the Fifty that drafted the 2014 Constitution. The coalition included a number of well-respected patriotic heavyweights among whom were Major General Murad Muwafi, former head of the General Intelligence Authority and Major General Ahmed Gamal Eddin, former Interior Minister. The coalition, however, quickly disintegrated, reflecting thus the absence of political will on the part of various political parties, and the persistence of party fragmentation.

Again, on 14 December 2014, I tackled the issue of the postponement of the elections under title “Blessing in disguise”. I was not at all sorry about the delay in passing the electoral constituencies law by the Supreme Parliamentary Elections Committee (SPEC) since, despite floundering attempts at uniting party ranks to create strong electoral coalitions, the fragmentation among the parties appeared hopelessly incurable.

On 25 January 2015, under the title “Cramming ahead of the finals”, I was cynical of the sudden scrambling on the party scene once SPEC announced the timeline of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Parties rushed to have their candidate lists ready on time, but an absurd scene prevailed, ruled by bargaining on to how to divide the parliamentary ‘cake’ among the various movements and parties. Yet no serious coalition was formed. “The scene today reminds me of a careless student who takes it easy on his studies until just before the finals, believing that cramming should get him through,” I wrote then.

“Will independents save the day?” This is the question I sceptically posed on 1 March 2015. By then it had become eminently obvious that, with conflict still dominating the party scene, there was next to no hope that the secular political parties would form a strong national coalition to contest the elections. I called on readers to rally behind the secular independent candidates as an alternative to party candidates. Independent candidates could win by riding the wave of clan and family loyalties, even though these were a far cry from the democratic maturity represented by politically-motivated parties.

Once the Constitutional Court pronounced the electoral constituency map non-constitutional, thus effectively postponing the elections, I wrote on 8 March 2015 that the delay offered the political parties a final chance to unite and create a strong coalition. I wondered whether the political players would use the time to reorganise their ranks. I imagined that in order to get out of this dilemma, three main coalitions could form: a right, left and centre; each including the parties that share the same political inclinations and ideologies. But this fell on deaf ears.

The absurd political scene persisted, and news of conflict among parties continued to catch the headlines in the media. President Sisi even had to convene with the leaders of the political parties twice in the span of two months, reminding them of the seriousness and magnitude of the parliamentary elections, as well as the importance of rising above personal and party interests to uphold the national interest. At the time a glimpse of hope sparkled, but not for long.

Today we are on the threshold of the parliamentary elections and are still inundated with news of fragmentation, disintegration and blurred vision on the political party scene. Only a few days after SPEC opened the door for candidacy, it announced that 90 per cent of the candidates who submitted their papers to the committee were independents. We are still waiting for the party candidate lists. Did I not begin this article by lamenting the lot of Egyptian voters still keen on polling?

Watani International
13 September 2015

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