General Egyptian Electoral Information… معلومات عامة عن الانختابات المصرية

The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections is less than two weeks. Campaign posters are covering street lights, underpasses and some parties have even rented out billboards. Leaflets are being handed out on the metro and the Salafists have discovered how to use modern technology to disseminate a political message. With nearly fifty different political parties bearing similar names – thirty-six of which have been formed in the past eight months – there is considerable confusion about their idealogical stances. Moreover in the internal party-competition around the ordering of party lists, prominent activists and politicians have continued to switch parties or start new ones to ensure their placement at the top of the list. To clear up these increasingly turbid waters, some enterprising souls have graphed the parties on a left-right and religious-secular political axes. Others have formed websites that after testing your stance on the key political issues match you with the political party of “your dreams”. (The tests are available here and here) (For more on these issues read an excellent article by Nate Wright.)

Unfortunately, there is also considerable doubt remains about the cleanliness of the electoral process let alone the powers that any elected parliament will have. While judges will be placed inside each polling station to monitor the casting of ballots (as in 2005 – the freest and fairest election in recent Egyptian history), no measures have been taken to prevent the voter intimidation and vote purchasing that historically occurred outside the polling stations. Emergency law is still in effect giving SCAF a blank check to constitutionally practice repression. In eight months, military tribunals have incarcerated more civilians than the entire thirty years of Mubarak’s rule. Censorship of both the written and oral media is on the rise with prominent bloggers in prison. However, police forces have proven unable to control the streets – a Coptic march was attacked in Shubra by unknown elements on Wednesday.

As to whether the parliament will wield any real political power, two weeks ago the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) released supra-constitutional principles that not only constitutionally institutionalized the military council and made the declaration of war and the military budget the exclusive purview of this council but stated that SCAF itself would be selecting the eighty members of the one hundred member constitutional committee. After parties from across the political spectrum announced their displeasure (and refused to sign the document,) SCAF has since modified “the test balloon.” While these principles now state that SCAF will not interfere with the selection of the constitutional committee, the proposal for a constitutionally institutionalized military council remains. Moreover the language surrounding the powers of the council are vague: the president and the parliament must consult the council (literal translation: take its opinion) on the declaration of war. Lastly, if the constitutional commission fails to draft a constitution in accordance with the supra-constitutional principles that is also ratified by the people within six months of commission’s formation, SCAF maintains the right to re-appoint the constitutional commission without parliamentary consultation.

It should come as no surprise that most the Egyptian political parties and forces have temporary suspended political polarization and have returned to Tahrir Square to demand that SCAF release a timetable for the surrendering of power to a civilian government prior to April 2012.

I hope to write more on the possible results of the election, but in the interim I suggest Evan Hill’s excellent article available at Foreign Policy.

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