Egypt prepares for parliament polls

Barely a month after President Hosni Mubarak swept to a predictable re-election, Egypt is in full campaign mode again as candidates have begun to register for the November legislative polls.

    Mubarak mustered 88% of presidential votes last month

    The campaign, which this year coincides with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, will be another measure of the regime's declared resolve to implement reform and democratisation.
    According to a presidential decree, the elections will begin on 9 November and end a month later, with Egypt's provinces divided into three groups voting in successive phases.
    There are 444 seats up for grabs out of parliament's 454, as 10 deputies are appointed directly by the president. Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) currently holds 388 of them.
    The 77-year-old leader mustered 88% of the vote last month and reports of widespread irregularities kept critics guessing on the regime's democratic intentions.
    But the 7 September presidential poll was the first time Egyptians could choose from several candidates, and the campaign further emboldened the opposition and saw a new level of defiance towards Mubarak and his cronies.
    Muslim Brotherhood

    Muslim Brotherhood is the largest,
    best organised opposition group

    The Muslim Brotherhood - already the largest and best-organised opposition force in parliament - will be the first to start chipping away at the NDP's dominance and is hoping to boost its seat tally from 17 to 40 or even 50.
    The banned movement, which can only field candidates as independents, launched its campaign during a massive iftar, the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the month of Ramadan.
    The giant meal in a luxury hotel was attended by almost 2000 people and saw the opposition supreme leader, Muhammad Mahdi Akif, launch a stinging attack against Mubarak's son, Gamal. He has risen to prominence in the ruling party and some believe he is being groomed for his father's succession.
    In the 2000 legislative elections, only about 40% of the vote went to the NDP, but scores of winning candidates who ran as independents later rallied to the ruling party.
    Behind-the-scenes alliances before and after the polling are expected to be equally decisive this year. The opposition parties - in disarray after boycotting the presidential election or scraping out single-figure shares of the vote - formed a campaign alliance aimed at mounting a stiffer challenge against the ruling party than they had in the past.
    Opposition alliances

    Many see Gamal Mubarak as his
    father's political successor

    The United National Front for Change (UNFC) includes the liberal Wafd Party, the Marxist Tagammu, the Nasserist Party and eight other smaller movements.
    Among them is the Kefaya (Enough) group, which electrified the political scene with its anti-Mubarak street demonstrations this year, but has shilly-shallied over its political future since
    boycotting the September poll.

    The embattled Ghad party stayed out of the opposition coalition due to ongoing quarrels with the Wafd and has sought to recruit NDP drop-outs to run as independents in order to make up for its paltry grassroots network.
    The Ghad leader Ayman Nur himself has come under attack on all fronts since clinching the presidential runner-up spot, having to fend off an internal rebellion in his party while being tried on charges of forgery related to the foundation of the party.
    The legislative elections could also see yet another expression of the inexorable rise of the young guard within the ruling party, under the patronage of Gamal Mubarak, who will not run himself.
    The NDP is fielding the maximum of two candidates for each of 222 constituencies. In the list it revealed this week, about a third of its existing MPs have been replaced by fresh blood.




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