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EGYPT: In the aftermath of flawed elections, a crisis of legitimacy

December 7, 2010 |  6:22 am

The first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt left many election observers frustrated.

Carnegie logo The frustration comes from numerous media and domestic-monitoring reports that documented election violations, including an organized intervention for ruling National Democratic Party candidates, judges and election observers blocked from doing their jobs, widespread vote-buying, and violence at polling places.

[Editor's note: Analysts of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.]

As a result, regardless of what happens in the Dec. 5 runoff elections, the ruling establishment's promise to hold free and pluralistic elections is no longer credible and its monopoly over the legislature is guaranteed.

Based on the results so far and runoff election predictions, the NDP will control the People's Assembly for the next five years. The party won over 90% of seats, with the share held by opposition and independent candidates falling from 24% to less than 10%.

Despite its relatively strong numbers in the last parliament, the opposition was unable to stop the NDP from passing its constitutional amendments and legislative agenda, and was ineffective in holding the executive branch accountable. Given its smaller numbers in the new parliament, it will likely have an even flimsier oversight role in the next five years.

As sectarian tensions between Muslim and Christian citizens increase, the new People's Assembly will also under-represent Copts. Just a handful of Coptic candidates ran and, even if they all won in the runoff elections, Copts would represent less than 4% of lawmakers. This showing reflects neither their size -- most unofficial estimates place Copts at 10% of the population -- nor their influence in society.

There was some positive news in the elections, however. The number of women in the new parliament will jump to an unprecedented level after the government allocated 64 seats for a women's quota.

While the NDP sought to keep its comfortable majority in parliament, consolidate its position as the dominant party, diminish the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and limit political competition, it also wanted to achieve a complementary set of political objectives. These include:

-- Strengthening the position of the cooperative opposition parties enough to ensure the NDP's control but also provide a facade of pluralism and diversity within the parliament.

-- Crafting an image of a modern party that can win fair elections without oppressing the opposition -- as long as it is legal and secular.

-- Manufacturing a positive image of the elections for the international public and Western governments by rejecting international observers and emphasizing local monitoring.

The results, however, reveal clear gaps between these objectives and the outcome:

-- The NDP won 90% of parliament seats, leaving the opposition with only a handful of spots.

-- Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood will have no representation in parliament after announcing their boycott of the runoff elections. Furthermore, violations plagued the electoral process.

-- Domestic observers and the local and international media were harassed so much that the outside world is openly denouncing the elections and raising concerns about the 2011 presidential election.

The mismatch between the NDP's objectives and the results remains puzzling. Likewise, frustration exists because the elections lacked sufficient fairness, competitiveness and democracy to generate a legislature that can effectively monitor the executive branch. Consequently, the newly elected People's Assembly is bound to lack genuine popular legitimacy.

-- Amr Hamzawy in Beirut

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