Widespread intimidation of voters and opposition candidates and blatant ballot rigging resulted in ‘victory’ for Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in the parliamentary elections last week. Many polling stations were closed to voters, who also faced violence from security forces. Ballot boxes were stuffed with forged ballot papers. Candidates’ representatives and independent observers were barred from polling stations. One candidate got no votes, even though he voted for himself!
The NDP won 97% of seats. If the results are to be believed, over 90% of Egyptians want the NDP regime to continue! It is more likely that 90% want it to end. Independent estimates put voter turnout at 10-15%, compared to 25% at the 2005 election.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) won 88 of the 508 seats in 2005 (standing as independents as the MB is illegal), becoming the largest opposition party. Laws were then changed, making it harder for opposition candidates to stand and even harder to win. Supervision of elections by judges was ended (They have a history of independence from the regime). In 2006, hundreds of judges protested against victimisation after electoral fraud was exposed.
Prior to this election, repression of the MB was increased. Around 1,400 leaders and activists were arrested, MB businesses closed and student members targeted by police. A media campaign was launched, aimed at undermining MB’s reputation for being relatively free from corruption.
In the first round of voting the MB did not win a single seat. Other parties that contested the election won 5 seats between them. The MB and Al-Wafd, a liberal party, then withdrew from the second round of voting, although Al-Tagammu, an ex-workers’ party, continued.
While the outcome of the election was never in doubt, the battle within the NDP to become candidates was fiercely fought. A non-refundable, minimum application fee of LE10,000 (£1100) – three years pay on the minimum wage – did not deter a stream of businessmen keen to gain parliamentary immunity and government contracts.
Many recent scandals have exposed NDP politicians and wealthy businessmen profiting from close connections with ministers and the state. At the centre of this web are 82-year old President Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal. A presidential election is due next year. The government was determined to prevent opposition in the new parliament.
Year of protests
This election took place after a year of protests on a wider scale than for over 30 years. Workers have been on strike and in occupations. Evicted residents protested over housing and property development. Poor farmers, people with disabilities, students, democracy protestors, opponents of police brutality and others have all been out on the streets. Last spring, at least four different protests took place each day outside parliament, with some camping out for weeks.
Inside parliament, nobody will be speaking for workers and the poor - against desperate poverty, high unemployment, rising prices and lack of housing, decent health services, education and welfare. This farcical election will fuel their anger.
A workers’ party is needed to draw together these different protests. It could win mass support with a programme of democratic rights, free elections, and an end to the dictatorship of big business and for socialist nationalisation and workers’ democracy.