Egypt is preparing for its first real multi-party parliamentary elections without the grip of Hosni Mubarak and his abolished National Democratic Party (NDP), ousted over nine months ago. The electoral law finally announced on October 8 has made the Egyptian electoral system one of a kind: with 2/3 of parliament to be elected via proportional party lists and 1/3 through first-past-the-vote system, while retaining the quota of 50 percent for workers and farmers. Further complicating the process is the arrangement of huge electoral districts that make it difficult for candidates or parties to feasibly reach voters with their campaigns. Parliamentary elections will start with the People’s Assembly (Lower House) on November 28. This will be the first stage of a three-round system to elect 498 members to parliament in a process set to end in January 2012. A similar process will be used for the Shoura Council (Upper House) elections to choose 180 members during a period from January to March 2012. In light of the complexity of the new electoral system, international and domestic monitors will have a particularly important role to play in scrutinizing the multi-stage polling process and reporting any irregularities that may arise. However, new regulations on election monitoring have troubling implications for the ability of monitors to effectively supervise the voting process.
Initially, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had refused to allow international monitoring (Morakaba in Arabic) of the parliamentary elections saying that “we reject anything that affects our sovereignty,” a statement that was very disappointing to pro-democracy groups. But perhaps taking into account backlash from Egyptian civil society and the international community, the SCAF backed down from its position and announced that local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would be allowed to “follow” the elections.
An earlier draft of the electoral law released by the military council on May 30 drew criticism from most political parties and revolutionary forces. Parties and analysts were stunned by the SCAF’s lack of transparency and shocked that the law had been drafted without any consultation with political groups and civil society. The care-taker government and SCAF came back in July after meeting with political parties to approve new amendments to the original draft, but many remain concerned about the confusing structure of the electoral system and its uncertain implications for the composition of the next parliament.
Most of the parties, especially those formed after the fall of Mubarak, have no or limited experience and insufficient time to build national constituencies. This explains the amount of complaining and whining about each step in the process. They have been focusing more on issues not of high importance for Egyptians. According to polls conducted, security and economy come on top of everything else Egyptians look for now. On the other hand, the SCAF is clinging to power using the rights given to it by the Constitutional Declaration, which led to a lot of criticism. The military junta was accused of not being serious about reforms and the public began to question their motive for not identifying a clear timeline for transitioning power to civilians; and many began to suspect that the generals wanted a weak parliament that won’t challenge their powers during the transitional period. This was apparent on several fronts, such as the court decision to allow Egyptians abroad to vote; the controversy over the supra-constitutional proposal presented by Dr. Ali al-Selmi, Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs; and a momentous court ruling on November 11 banning former NDP members from running in the parliamentary elections.
The fact that all of the previous examples have occurred just weeks before the start of elections is probably not a coincidence and suggests that the SCAF and the interim government not only lacks a vision for Egypt’s transitional period but is also determined to keep the post-Mubarak political order as opaque as it was under the former regime.