CAIRO – Doubts are being raised now over the landslide victory of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak in midterm elections for the Shura Council last month.
NDP spokesmen attributed the results to “good electoral planning,” but opposition figures and rights groups say election to the consultative chamber of parliament was marked by widespread vote rigging and coercion.
“The electoral process was subject to shameless and obvious fraud on an unprecedented scale,” Saad al-Husseini, secretary-general of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood bloc in parliament, told IPS.
After two rounds of countrywide voting June 11 and 18, the ruling party secured 84 of the 88 council seats being contested. Of the remaining four seats, three went to independents and one to the opposition leftist Tegemmua Party.
The Shura Council has a total of 264 members, of whom 176 are elected and 88 are appointed directly by the president. Council members serve six-year terms, with half the seats coming up for reelection or reappointment every three years. The council is generally confined to a “consultative” role, with little real authority to effect legislation.
Although Egypt’s two main secular opposition parties boycotted the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood the country’s largest opposition movement fielded 19 candidates in the first round of voting. Despite the widespread grassroots support enjoyed by the Islamist group, it failed to win a single seat.
According to Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen, state security forces prevented voters from reaching polling stations in voting districts featuring Brotherhood candidates. A report released by three local human rights organizations shortly after the elections appeared to confirm this, noting that “voters were prevented from casting ballots” amid “a high turnout of central security officers.”
Although the Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned by the state, its members who run in elections as nominal independents have controlled roughly one fifth of the People’s Assembly since the last parliamentary election, held in late 2005. That election, too, saw widespread electoral fraud and intimidation of voters.
For the last six months, the authorities have waged a wide-ranging arrest campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, detaining hundreds of its leading members since January. Shortly before the first round of voting, police reportedly arrested more than 700 of the group’s members.
According to Husseini, final tallies for ballots cast in the Shura elections served to confirm that vote rigging had been widespread.
“In voting districts that didn’t feature Brotherhood contenders, NDP candidates won by an average of 40,000 votes,” he said. “In districts where Brotherhood candidates did run, however, NDP nominees won by an average of 150,000 votes. This isn’t natural.”
On June 24, NDP secretary-general Safwat Sherif, a veteran of the party’s old guard, was reelected by sitting Shura members for a second term as council speaker. In a statement, Sherif insisted the contest had been “fair and transparent,” adding that his party “respected the constitution and the law” and “didn’t allow violations in the electoral process.”
Government spokesmen also pointed to relatively high turnout rates as proof of the contest’s legitimacy. According to figures issued by the official election council, the two voting rounds saw 31 percent and 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots respectively.
But even some government-affiliated observers questioned these figures.
“The official turnout rate wasn’t accurate at all,” Diaa Rashwan, senior analyst at the government-run al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told IPS. “Although they say it was 31 percent, there were hardly any signs on the street that an election was even taking place.”
Critics also pointed to the lack of judicial oversight. According to a controversial constitutional amendment made in March, the president has the authority to appoint an election council mandated with establishing electoral regulations and supervising polling stations.
“The primary goal of the constitutional amendments was the removal of judicial supervision in order to guarantee the ruling party’s continued control of elections,” said Husseini. “All of the electoral fraud comes as a direct result of this lack of judicial oversight.”
Farouk al-Ashry, a leading member of the Nasserist Party, which boycotted the Shura races, agreed that elections held in the absence of neutral observers were destined to failure.
“Participation in an election supervised by the ruling regime is just silly,” he was quoted as saying in the local press. “The methods employed by the NDP hardly encourage voter participation.”
Nevertheless, the official election committee concluded that the races had been both “accurate” and “transparent,” with the exception, they said, of a few minor incidents that had no effect on electoral results.
The NDP’s control over the council was bolstered further on June 23, when Mubarak appointed an additional 44 council members. These included longtime party stalwarts as well as several members of the party’s influential Policies Committee, headed by presidential scion Gamal Mubarak.