Egypt elections pose daunting challenge
- 25 November 2011
- From the section Middle East
Egypt's parliamentary elections starting on 28 November represent the next vital stage in the country's post-revolutionary history.
The vote will determine who is going to control the parliament that will elect a 100-member committee that will write a new constitution.
The elected parliament will also liaise with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), the rulers of Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February, in order to appoint a new cabinet.
This will govern until presidential elections, which have now been brought forward to mid-2012.
Parties are competing for the 498 seats of the People's Assembly, the lower chamber, and the 180 members of the Shura Council, the upper house.
There are more than 60 parties in Egypt; more than 40 are fielding candidates.
Two-thirds of the seats are decided by party lists under a proportional system. The final third are chosen through individual lists under an absolute majority system in which a candidate needs more than 50% to win a seat.
If no-one wins a majority, there is a second round.
Fears over turnout
With so many parties in contention, few expect a strong showing. Electoral pacts after the vote may be crucial.
The environment in which the elections will be held is complex and fluid.
While a new era has opened after years of authoritarianism and ordinary people are optimistic and hopeful for the future, there are other factors that might hinder the election process.
These include concerns that recent violence will lead to a low turnout among the 50 million people eligible to vote, compromising the fresh democratic start that Egyptians are yearning for.
The role of the Scaf is crucial in securing the electoral polls and handing power over to civilians.
Clashes this week between security forces and protesters show how tense the situation is.
The protesters want assurances from the Scaf before the elections that it will hand power to civilians. They have not been satisfied with pledges to that end by the head of the Scaf, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
The Scaf has been under immense pressure from political groups and protesters, especially the Islamists, to drop what is called the "El-Silmi" constitutional document.
This document states that 80 out of 100 members of the constitutional committee will be appointed rather than elected from the new parliament.
It also contains articles that give the army the final say in its budgets and allow no civilian oversight.
The parties with the best organisational and financial resources are expected to win most of the seats.
These include the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the remnants of Hosni Mubarak's dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) - who have organised themselves under new party names such as the Hurreya Party, the new Wafd party and the liberal Free Egyptians party.
The Freedom and Justice party has opposed calls for the election to be delayed, hoping to benefit from Muslim Brotherhood's existing presence on the ground.
"Forces who have been trying to postpone elections will fail since Egyptians want election to put Egypt on the path of democracy," said Essam El-Aryan, the party's vice-president.
The Islamist parties are accused by liberal parties of using mosques and religious occasions, such as the festival of Eid al-Adha, to encourage people to vote for them.
Given the political conflicts and logistical challenges that have surfaced before the complex election process has even started, Egyptians face a daunting task in securing a transition to democracy.