Egypt Holds 'Free' Elections Next Month
Egyptian parliamentary elections set for next month will be held under magistrate supervision for the first time in nearly 50 years. The three-stage voting will start on October 17, with the last stage ending on November 15. In the past, elections were held under the watchful eye of civil servants. An electoral law adopted in July dictates that a judge must be present in each of the country's polling stations.
Voters will choose 444 of parliament's 454 members, the remaining 10 are appointed by the president. The July supreme court ruling to divide voting into three stages and have a judge present at polling stations is part of an effort by the country to prevent election tampering. Observers hope that the independent supervision will encourage the participation of Egypt's largely apathetic electorate.
Some 20 million voters will place ballots at 7,000 polling stations. The elections will cost around EL80 million (US$22.86 million). Last week, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) released a partial list of its candidates and said a full list will be published in the next few weeks. The list reflects the party's desire to co-opt representatives of all sectors of Egyptian society, to limit the need for substantial political opposition.
The National Council for Women, chaired by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is backing women candidates and is encouraging Egyptian women to register to vote.
The NDP said it wants Egypt's new parliament to reflect the country's religious diversity. In Egypt's last two parliamentary elections, held in 1990 and 1995, not one Copt was named on the NDP list. Coptic Christians make up around 10 percent of Egypt's population.
"This time, Copts will definitely figure high on the NDP's list of candidates," Adel Beshai, a Coptic member of the NDP political bureau, told the Al Ahram weekly.
The NDP move maybe an attempt to limit the seats Egypt's main legal opposition party, Al-Wafd (Delegation). Historically, this liberal party has put forth a number of Coptic candidates, nearly 50 in 1995. However, Copts may prefer to vote for candidates who, through their allegiance to the NDP, have a better chance of influencing policy and gaining power.
To secure seats, Al-Wafd is courting the business sector and representing itself as the party of business people. Al-Wafd was originally founded by a group of middle-class Egyptians who negotiated with the British in the early years of this century. American embassy officials have recently expressed interest in the party's prospects.
But the NDP has already named 11 businessmen who will run on the party list in the October-November 2000 elections. Among them are business giants like Ahmed Ezz, head of Ezz Steel, Egypt's main private steel manufacturer, and Esmat Nathan, a Coptic contractor from the Alexandria. Having a core group of business people loyal to NDP should help the party push through legislation necessary for economic reform, such as the long-awaited mortgage law. But business people have proven to be controversial figures in Egypt.
Four NDP members of parliament were jailed this summer for business-related loan fraud, and several businessmen have recently fled Egypt to escape bad debts.
MUBARAK MEETS NEW OPPOSITION LEADER GOMAA
Cairo's leading opposition daily Wafd reported Monday that President Hosni Mubarak has met with the newly-elected president of the Wafd party, Dr. Numaan Gomaa. The two men met in the World Trade Center's conference hall, in Bulaq, Cairo, for thirty minutes.
Gomaa told the paper he felt "comfortable and relaxed" about the meeting and he was sure Mubarak would adhere to plans for the parliamentary elections in October and November. He said Mubarak listened to all his opinions on many of the political, economic and cultural difficulties facing Egypt.
The Wafd said Gomaa told Mubarak his party "was running 300 candidates in the coming election for seats in the Meglis al Shaab (People's Assembly), and expects the party to capture 100 seats in a peaceful and democratic climate." He stressed the need for a strong opposition presence in the assembly so that it could "perform its patriotic role."
Gomaa wasn't the only opposition figure to meet the president. Yesterday's Egyptian Gazette said that "Mubarak held separate meetings with some leaders of leading opposition parties." The official government daily Al Ahram mentioned a meeting with the chief of the leftist Progressive Unionist Party ("Tagammu"), Khaled Mohieddin, and the party's General Secretary, Rafaat El Saeed. Another meeting was held with the leader of the Nasserist Arab Democratic Party, Diaa Eddin Dawud, according to Al Ahram.
In a related news item, President Mubarak issued a republican decree urging those who are eligible to vote in the October-November elections.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)