Fri, Dec 03, 2010
CAIRO: One of Egypt’s main opposition parties said it is sticking by its decision to pull out of parliamentary elections despite violent inter-party disagreements over the move Thursday.
Supporters and opponents of the vote boycott faced off outside the party headquarters in Cairo and later even inside the building, pushing and shouting before a final announcement about the boycott was made.
“We will withdraw from the elections because we want to stand with the people and not with a fraudulent parliament,” said party leader Al-Sayed al-Badawi, after hours of closed door deliberations with party leaders.
Egypt’s oldest party, the Wafd, has seen its popularity decline dramatically over the years amid accusations it has become too close to the government. Pulling out of elections, however, damages the legitimacy of the contests meant to showcase the country’s democracy and was an uncharacteristically bold move for the Wafd.
“I wanted the Wafd to boycott the election because the rigging we saw this time has been unprecedented in the history of Egypt,” said Tareq Younis who ran under the Wafd ballot in a suburb of Cairo. “If we stay in the election then we give legitimacy to the theater the government has put us through.”
Opponents of the pullout, however, said the party was abandoning its supporters by quitting elections.
“We want the right to have the man we voted for represent us in Parliament,” said Saber el-Ashmouni, a youth leader in the working class Matariya district. “We raised the profile of the party in Matariya and now they want us to abandon it?” Two members of the party won outright and nine others were going contest the run-offs. The more than 200 other seats decided in the first round went almost entirely to the ruling party.
The United States, Egypt’s ally and a major aid donor, criticized the poll’s conduct. Independent Egyptian monitors cited widespread abuse. Officials said voting was fair.
But analysts said the blatant manner of abuses cited by monitors and others had prompted a rare show of political decisiveness by Wafd that has often dithered between the government and opposition camps.
“This time, it was more hideous and on a larger scale than in any other election … [The ruling party] has given the opposition the biggest present it can hope for,” said opposition campaigner Hassan Nafaa, saying he hoped it would drive the opposition toward a more unified call for political change.
Anti-government street protests rarely gather more than a few hundred people in Egypt, where security is swift to quash dissent. Despite efforts to draw opposition groups into coalitions, campaigns usually disintegrate amid bickering.
Analysts said the government wanted to crush its Islamist and other critics before a 2011 presidential vote. Officials have indicated Mubarak, 82, will run if he can, but his health has been under scrutiny since gallbladder surgery in March.
Rules governing that vote make it almost impossible for a realistic challenge to the ruling party’s nomination. But analysts said the state wants to avoid public shows of dissent.
“The presidential election is probably the key marker at the moment and this is an effort to sideline the Brotherhood in preparation for that election and that may well be because of the huge uncertainty about what Mubarak will do,” said David Hartwell, IHS Jane’s North Africa and Middle East analyst.
Egypt’s strongest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, also pulled out of the second round of voting after criticizing fraud in last week’s contests.
Egypt’s government has staunchly defended the fairness of last Sunday’s election, despite reports by independent rights groups of blatant rigging.
The result will now most likely be a 518-seat Parliament made up almost entirely of the ruling National Democratic Party, with a few seats going to independents and smaller parties.
The new Parliament will play a role in next year’s key presidential election and most observers say the government wanted a pliant legislature. – With Reuters