Political chaos as Egypt chooses a new president

Political chaos as Egypt chooses a new president

Egyptians begin voting on Saturday in the second round of a presidential election, pitting against a former premier of the old regime amid political turmoil and with the post’s powers still undefined.

By (AFP)

Published: Sat 16 Jun 2012, 11:20 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 2:40 PM

Ahmed Shafiq, ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, faces off against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi in a two-day ballot in which 50 million Egyptians are eligible to vote.

Polling opens at 0600 GMT, with 150,000 troops deployed nationwide for the highly divisive election.

The race has polarised the nation, dividing those who fear a return to the old regime under Shafiq’s leadership from others who want to keep religion out of politics and fear the Brotherhood would stifle personal freedoms.

Mursi scraped ahead with 24.7 percent in the first round, with former air force chief Shafiq winning 23.6 percent, and there are no clear polls indicating who may gain the upper hand in the run-off.

The election comes amid turmoil that could see the ruling military — which took power when Mubarak resigned in February last year — maintain its grip on power.

On Thursday, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled certain articles in the law governing parliamentary elections to be invalid, thus annulling the Islamist-led house.

The Brotherhood won 47 percent of the body’s seats in a drawn-out process between November last year and February.

The top court also ruled unconstitutional the “political isolation” law, which bars senior members of Mubarak’s regime and top members of his now-dissolved party from running for public office for 10 years.

The law, passed by parliament earlier this year, had threatened to bar Shafiq from the race.

Egyptian parties and activists accused the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of staging a “counter-revolution” after a series of measures that consolidated its power ahead of the polls.

Thursday’s court rulings came a day after a justice ministry decision to grant army personnel the right to arrest civilians after that power was lifted when the decades-old state of emergency expired on May 31.

But Hesham Sallam, a researcher at Georgetown University, said recent steps are consistent with the military’s management of the transition from Mubarak’s rule.

“It is clear that SCAF has been pushing its vision, which is of a deep state protected and sealed from representative and elected institutions,” Sallam said.

The rulings have put legislative power back in the military’s hands and have guaranteed that Shafiq, perceived to be the army’s candidate, stays in the race.

“SCAF has come to the realisation it will not be able to protect its economic and political interests if it’s not taking the lead in carving out the rules of the new political institutions,” he said.

The military had vowed to cede power to civilian rule once a new president is elected.

But the transition has been legally chaotic, with no constitution in place to define the new president’s powers. And the panel supposed to draft a constitution was picked by the parliament that has now been annulled.

The election has seen the boycott movement — largely ignored in the first round — gain momentum.

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