A missed opportunity

THE campaign for Eygpt’s first multi-candidate presidential election has been formally launched. The September 7 vote, being the country’s first competitive election, should have been a landmark opportunity for Egyptian people to make a fresh start. However, the way things stand today, this much-hyped presidential election isn’t going to make much of a difference to the Egyptian people.

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Published: Fri 19 Aug 2005, 11:22 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:34 PM

Look at it any way, this is an impossibly one-sided contest. On the one hand, you have the powerful incumbent, President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for the past 24 years and is seeking yet another, fifth term in office. Behind him is the massive power of his office and the governing National Democratic Party which dominates all state institutions most importantly its decision making bodies. And on the other hand are relatively inexperienced players like reformist Ayman Nour and Wafd party leader Numan Gumaa. This has been a hopelessly uneven and unfair affair from the word go.

The inherent weakness of Mubarak’s electoral opponents makes it a cakewalk for the 77-year old incumbent. Of course, the poll next month is decidedly better than the one-point presidential ‘referendum’ Egypt has held so far in which the ‘popular’ support for the leader at times touched an absurd 99 per cent. But curbs and restrictions on those seeking to challenge Mubarak in a direct electoral contest have meant elimination of serious competition to the president. The process to take part in the presidential election had been made so complex and loaded in favour of the governing party candidate that it was really hard for serious candidates to make it to the race. No wonder many opposition parties have opted to boycott the poll. The Muslim Brotherhood, the real and powerful opposition, isn’t anyway allowed to fight any elections. This leaves the field wide open for Mubarak. So we don’t have to wait until next month to know who is going to be the country’s next leader.

But apparently even these built-in ‘safety mechanisms’ to perpetuate the governing party’s grip over power aren’t enough. The government has quickly shot down the US proposal to send foreign observers to monitor the poll next month. If Egypt is committed to holding a free and fair poll, what prevents it from allowing foreign observers?

Frankly speaking, the powers that be are still reluctant to relax their stranglehold over power, democracy or no democracy. Under pressure from the West, particularly the US which happens to be Egypt’s major ally and donor, the regime may have initiated a controlled democratic process but its heart is obviously not in it. The September 7 vote could have been an opportunity for the people to take charge of their destiny by electing a leader of their choice. Unfortunately Egypt has missed that opportunity.

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