Clear winners and dark horses
Courtesy: بسام عبد الحميد

Low voter turnout wasn’t the only notable feature of the first stage of parliamentary elections this week. Several leading candidates may also represent a shift in power in the new legislative body.

High Elections Commission spokesperson Omar Marwan said on Wednesday that voter turnout reached 26 percent across 14 governorates, a significant drop from 59 percent in the 2011 parliamentary elections.

The For the Love of Egypt electoral list, known to be a major supporter of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, swept the vote in Upper Egypt and the West Delta, while its main competitor, the Salafi Nour Party, experienced a somewhat surprising defeat.

The Nour Party lost in Alexandria, its strongest power base and the birthplace of the affiliated Salafi Dawah movement. The list only won in the Amreya district, losing the other nine districts in the governorate to For the Love of Egypt.

“I believe this is one of the worst elections in the history of the Egyptian parliament, and it will remain a black spot,” party head Younis Makhyoun said in a Facebook statement early Thursday.

The Nour Party called a general meeting to decide whether or not to withdraw from the second phase of elections, according to several local media reports.

For the Love of Egypt is a coalition of 10 political parties, as well as former officials of state institutions (like its general coordinator, retired army general Sameh Seif al-Yazal). Many of the political parties who make up the coalition also achieved major wins in the individual seat system, reaching the runoffs next week on October 27 and 28.

Topping this list is the Free Egyptians Party, founded and financed by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris. The party has 65 individual candidates in the runoffs next week out of the 80 they fielded, according to party spokesperson Shehab Wagih. Five other party candidates won as part of For the Love of Egypt.

One of the more surprising outcomes so far has been the rise of the Nation’s Future Party. The party was founded by 24-year-old Mohamed Badran, who was the head of the Egyptian Student Union in 2013.

Badran is known for his close relationship with Sisi, and many observers have predicted a powerful career for the budding politician. The party fielded 88 candidates in the first round of the elections, 48 of whom reached the runoffs. One of only four independent candidates in the country who won a seat outright in the first round of votes comes from Nation’s Future, while five other party members won seats as part of For the Love of Egypt.

Badran was optimistic about the runoffs in an interview with the privately owned Youm7 newspaper.

Older and better-established political parties did not seem to perform as well. The Wafd Party will see 35 of its candidates in the runoffs, while only five Egyptian Social Democratic Party candidates are still in the running.

Though his party is in the For the Love of Egypt coalition, Wafd Party head Sayed al-Badawy was dissatisied with the results of the first round. In an interview with the satellite channel Al-Araby, he said that the parliament wouldn’t be a good representative of “two revolutions,” referring to January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013.

“I expect that a large part of the upcoming parliament will be represented by pre-January 25 powers, mostly former officials of the National Democratic Party,” he said. “I’m not optimistic.”

Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Mada Masr none of this is really surprising, given recent changes to the elections laws and the general political climate.

“The turnout is the lowest since the outbreak of the January 25 revolution,” he said. “This apathy is to be expected. Most political parties and candidates pledged their support for Sisi, so there is zero political competition.”

The fall of the Nour Party isn’t surprising either, he added, as “the Salafi power base is made up of Egyptians who see no real viability in the political process.”

The lack of real political competition is one of the factors that contributed to For the Love of Egypt’s sweeping win, as it’s the only list most voters know, according to Sayed. “The win is not a reflection of the strong presence of the coalition,” he asserted. “It was the only one with the biggest chance to publicize itself.”

The rise of the Nation’s Future Party, on the other hand, was unexpected. “There are many question marks around this party,” Sayed said. “It is newly formed and voters don’t know it well. The party is connected to Sisi like no other party, could this be a reason? Given the low turnout, did the old practices of voting fraud happen? No one knows.”

In another unprecedented turn of events, 20 Coptic candidates reached the runoffs, 10 of them in the southern Minya Governorate.

Mina Thabet, a researcher on minorities and religious freedoms at the Egyptian Commission of Rights and Freedoms, explained to Mada Masr that the low turnout played a major role in the rise of Coptic candidates. Voters who usually vote on a sectarian basis didn’t head to the polls, allowing Coptic candidates to mobilize their supporters.

“This parliament, despite many reservations, represents a chance for Copts and other marginalized groups to have a stronger presence,” Thabet maintained. “The Constitution and the elections laws specified a quota for Copts. At least we know for sure that 24 Copts will be represented in this parliament.”

However, Thabet believes that such optimism won’t continue and sectarian voting will prevail in the runoffs.

“Now every Coptic candidate will face a Muslim candidate, so sectarian voting will re-emerge. I expect that many of the Coptic candidates will lose,” Thabet said. “I’m also worried that sectarian violence may break out.” 

Mai Shams El-Din 

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