Q&A: Egypt's parliamentary election
Egypt goes to the polls on 28 November to elect members of the lower house of parliament - or People's Assembly - for the next five years.
The poll is seen as a significant stage on the way to the 2011 presidential election.
This will see the end of President Hosni Mubarak's fifth consecutive term in office since he took over after Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981. The president is yet to confirm whether he will seek another term.
According to constitutional changes introduced in 2007, presidential candidates must be nominated by parties with at least 3% of elected members of parliament.
HOW DOES THE VOTING SYSTEM WORK?
The new parliament will have 518 members, 508 of whom will be elected and 10 of whom will be appointed by a presidential decree.
Each of the 254 constituencies will return two MPs representing two groups of people: workers and farmers and professionals. According to the constitution, the former must account for at least half of all MPs.
The winners are decided on a first-past-the-post basis. To win outright, a candidate must get more than 50% of the vote. Otherwise the top two battle it out in a second round.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO VOTE?
There are 42 million registered voters out of an estimated population of about 85 million. To be eligible, a voter must be at least 18 years of age and must hold Egyptian nationality.
WHICH PARTIES ARE STANDING?
The parties contesting the election include President Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), which has ruled the country for the past three decades, the officially banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which is seen as the main opposition force, the liberal New al-Wafd Party, the leftist Progressive National Unionist Party, or al-Tajammu, and the Socialist Nasserist Party.
National Democratic Party (NDP)
The NDP is fielding 770 candidates, including 68 women, in 222 constituencies to contest more than 500 seats.
The party recently said it would field several candidates in "safe" constituencies and a single candidate where a split vote could lead to defeat. Analysts say the move could lead to greater infighting and trigger a repeat of the violence of 2005, when a number of people died in protests in districts where NDP candidates who had failed to make the election list ran as independents. There are reports that some would-be candidates who failed to make the current party list have said they will support other parties, even the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood says that the NDP's move exposes a growing rift between the party's old and new guards.
The NDP pledges to create more jobs, eliminate poverty by extending welfare benefits to the poorest sections of society, provide health insurance for two-thirds of the population within the next parliamentary term and boost national security.
Muslim Brotherhood (MB)
The strongest challenge to the NDP is expected to come from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which is officially banned but politically tolerated despite the fact that the constitution bans any party based on religion.
The group announced in October it would contest a third of the seats but it is widely expected that it will fail to match its performance in 2005 when candidates affiliated to the group but running as independents won 88 seats - more than a fifth of the total.
The MB has been promoting slogans such as "Egypt rise up and speak!", "I seek nothing but Islam, no to money, no to prestige", "Islam is the solution", prompting the government to accuse it of sedition and attempting to establish a caliphate (Islamic state).
Some media suggest that the election has exposed a rift between those MB members who are in favour of taking part in the poll and those who want to boycott it.
WHO IS BOYCOTTING THE POLL?
The National Association for Change (NAC), set up by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director-general of the UN's nuclear watchdog and possible presidential challenger, is boycotting the poll, citing "the lack of real guarantees to prevent vote-rigging". The Al-Ghad Party, led by a prominent opposition figure, Ayman Nour - who came distant second in the presidential poll in 2005 but was later jailed for three years for alleged fraud - has also opted not to run in the poll.
ARE THERE ANY WOMEN CANDIDATES?
In June 2009, parliament passed a law to increase the number of MPs from 454 to 518 in order to allocate 64 seats for women, who should make up 12% of the next parliament. Only nine women MPs were elected in 2005.
HOW DO CANDIDATES FUND THEIR CAMPAIGNS?
According to campaign rules published in October, candidates are barred from using public money to fund their campaign, offering money to voters or receiving funds from abroad. However, recent media reports say some candidates have tried to circumvent the rules by offering tomatoes - the price of which has rocketed recently - or hashish in exchange for votes or hiring "thugs" to intimidate rivals.
IS THE ELECTION LIKELY TO BE FAIR?
President Mubarak and his minister for parliamentary affairs, Mufid Shihab, recently pledged that the election would be held in a fair and transparent manner. However, the MB alleges that the police have been harassing its candidates. The NDP has dismissed the accusations as a tactic intended to "poison the atmosphere ahead of the poll".
WHO WILL MONITOR THE ELECTION?
The election process will be overseen by 120 national NGOs. Several bodies - including the independent Popular Campaign in support of Mohamed ElBaradei - have said they will use the internet extensively to monitor the poll.
Both the NDP and the MB have rejected calls - coming from some opposition parties and the US - for international monitors to observe the election, arguing this would amount to interference in the country's internal affairs.
WHAT ROLE DO THE MEDIA PLAY?
State-owned media have given extensive coverage to the NDP campaign. A recent address by President Mubarak to the NDP dominated the news agenda of the state-owned media for several days.
The campaign has been marked by accusations and counter-accusations. The opposition has accused the government of imposing a series of measures - such as the closure of satellite TV channels and the sacking of journalists critical of the government - aimed at silencing its candidates, while the NDP has accused some private media of being biased against its candidates.
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