Time for party reform

22-04-2018 09:09 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has won the confidence of Egyptians, who voted him in for a second presidential term which starts two months from now. Once the election was over, the media in Egypt has extensively reported on the dreams and aspirations of Egyptians for President Sisi’s second term. Naturally, mainstream Egyptians focus on their need for affordable basic commodities, security, better health care and job opportunities. Education reform comes a close second, together with reasonably priced housing and other valid needs.

While I absolutely agree with mainstream Egyptians’ aspirations, I remain especially concerned about much-needed reform of the political and party scene, an issue I repeatedly tackled and vowed not to stop broaching until a democratic political path is secured for this country. In fact, this was the cornerstone of my endorsement of President Sisi for a second term. In May 2017, during an interview with the chief editors of State-owned newspapers, he said, “I have more than once called upon parties with similar agendas and political views to merge, in order to create [a few] strong parties [instead of numerous, conflicting feeble ones]. Only then will the parties produce calibres that qualify for power rotation. I wish to see parties with the same ideologies strive towards collaboration and mergers.” In this context, I wrote on 22 October 2017 under the title Why I would vote for Sisi: “Last May, President Sisi was expressing a wish. Today, as I strongly endorse nominating him for a second term, I say to him: I am an Egyptian who loves Egypt and worries for her future.
I give you my vote for a second presidential term, coupled with a major assignment: to work on reforming the political party scene. I aspire for coalitions that would yield major parties to represent the left, centre and right. I hope these coalitions come up with strong, well-defined platforms that would produce strong political calibres, qualified to contend national leadership and power rotation. Mr President, if you succeed in achieving this during your second term, it will be the greatest of your achievements at all. Egypt would forever owe you gratitude and appreciation much more than if compelled to amend the Constitution to allow you to remain in power.”
Today, almost a year on President’s Sisi remarks, no change is on the horizon of the fragmented, crumbling party scene. It still boasts some 100 parties, a huge number which nonetheless translates into no meaningful content or effectiveness; it rather reflects a fragile, powerless, pathetic party formula. It makes me wonder: if President Sisi’s call was not met by most parties, can we afford to wait for the far-fetched possibility of the parties voluntarily joining forces? We are on the threshold of a second, and last, four-year-term for President Sisi, after which our parties are required to come up with eligible presidential candidates; there is no time to lose. We must swiftly administer the treatment for the ‘ailing’ parties, so that by the end of the first year the party map would have recovered. Within the second year of the presidential term the main features of the party coalitions should mature and become recognisable to the public. By then the party coalitions should be strong enough to contend the next parliamentary elections, generating promising calibres that could lead majority and opposition. Once the next presidential elections loom, these figures should be able to run for president, for the first time putting to test the power rotation stipulated by the Constitution.

What if the parties fail to voluntarily join forces? I rely on the wisdom and political prudence of President Sisi; I trust he would take the initiative of inviting parliament to amend the party law. I believe the role of the Party Affairs Committee should be redrafted to include measures necessary to achieve mergers between parties, so that we end up with three or four strong party coalitions. The alignment of parties that embrace similar ideologies and platforms under a single coalition is the most important of these measures, also stipulating a minimum number of members from all over Egypt for a coalition to gain legitimacy. A timeframe must be set for these measures, in order to allow for the on-the-ground work that should follow.

I will remain concerned and anxious about the issue of party reform. I have repeatedly tackled it since 2016 and will continue to do so, since I am confident that all concerned with the future of this country share my apprehension.

Watani International
22 April 2018

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