Will independents save the day?

28-02-2015 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold


The countdown for Egypt’s parliamentary elections has begun. All eyes are now on the various political players, with Egyptians striving to find out everything about the candidates. These include individual candidates running on their own, independents running on lists of candidates who share the same political vision, or those representing their parties on party coalition lists. It is hoped that the elections will bring in a strong, balanced parliament with fair representation of all sectors of the Egyptian community.
The eagerness and enthusiasm of the voters call for optimism, yet the attitude displayed by the parties and political contenders is frustrating and disheartening to put it mildly. In the run-up to the finalisation of candidacy, the political arena teemed with bargaining, deal-making, conflict, and ‘marriage and divorce’ among parties in attempts to stitch together precarious coalitions. Individual and party interests glaringly governed the scene; there appeared to be appallingly absent national responsibility and utter apathy to how serious the political predicament is. With no rallying behind specific candidates the secular vote is bound to be fragmented, in which case the only winner would be the remnants of the Islamists who are lurking in the wings waiting for an opportunity to sneak into parliament.

The extensive number of candidates and the different political inclinations of the numerous candidate lists is not at all reassuring and indicates that the contenders are not aware of the magnitude of the responsibility they should shoulder. The rise and fall of secular coalitions and the conflict between the liberal forces obliterated hopes that the day could have been saved even at the last moment, which I had previously compared to students cramming ahead of the finals.

Sadly, hopes that political parties could build a strong national coalition have gone to the wind. Judging by the chaotic, flimsy political scene, the fragmentation will likely spill over into parliament itself. It is ironic that party politicians had long demanded that political parties be given more seats in parliament—as matters stand, the law stipulates that 75 per cent of parliamentary seats should go to the independents and 25 per cent to political parties. Now I ask: what would they have done with the bigger number of seats? Fight over them for each to sieze the biggest piece of the cake?

Having by now despaired of a strong national coalition that can rally Egyptians behind it and win a majority in parliament, I have turned to the independents, whether those running as individuals or on lists. The fact that our politicians have failed to form strong coalitions is tantamount to an admission of political bankruptcy, and forces us to place our bets on independent candidates with no party loyalty and scarce political fundamentals. Tribal and family loyalties in Egypt can easily carry off the elections; candidates running on them are flush with cash and have secure voting blocs. Meaning that, at the end of the day, such narrow loyalties will trump the democratic, political and party values we have tried so hard to foster.

I have been scrutinising the independent candidates, their political leanings and moves, and their chances of success, hoping that they would rescue us from the quicksands the political parties left us stranded in. In former parliamentary elections Watani had published the names and affiliations of the candidates in the various constituencies, in order to familiarise the readers with them so they could vote accordingly. We will do this again this time round, since the parties have displayed sufficient political immaturity to lead the voters to withhold the party loyalty that could have guided them through the elections. Voters now lack belonging and vision, and stumble on their way to the ballot, wondering who to vote for. This unfortunate predicament has prompted us at Watani to intervene and help, as though offering ‘model answers’ to the exam questions. And this time the model answers will have to be based not on the parties but on the independents.

Watani International
1 March 2015

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