CAIRO: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak promised Monday to ease restrictions on running for the country s top job.
At a meeting of MPs from his ruling National Democratic Party, Mubarak vowed to amend Article 76 of the constitution which says a legal party must control five percent of both houses of parliament to field a presidential candidate.
The article also states that independent candidates must be endorsed by 250 members of Egypt s representative bodies.
A total change of the constitution is difficult but an amendment to certain articles is possible, Mubarak said at the meeting.
I thought about amending Article 76 before you did, in order to strengthen parties, he said without elaborating on what the changes would be. But opposition members believe that by wanting to strengthen parties Mubarak intends to only remove the restrictions on political parties while keeping those on independents firmly in place.
With both houses of parliament and local councils dominated by the ruling NDP party, restrictions on independents would block the powerful opposition Muslim Brotherhood from the process and in reality only allow an NDP member to run, widely expected to be Gamal Mubarak.
The only opposition movement to have achieved significant representation in parliament in last year s legislative elections was the officially outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which won 88 of the 454 seats by fielding candidates as independents.
[President Mubarak] only intends to remove the restrictions for the parties and not the independents, and then he is deliberately excluding the Muslim Brotherhood, the group s deputy chief Mohammed Habib told AFP.
If the restrictions on independents remain, this means (Mubarak) is pursuing the same anti-democratic procedure … it means he is aiming for hereditary power and the succession of Gamal, Habib said.
Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, also believes that the restrictions for independents will not be removed.
He described Mubarak s announcement as a political game by the regime to divide the opposition forces and exclude the Muslim Brotherhood, he said.
An amendment would also allow Gamal Mubarak to become president in an election that would appear competitive, he added.
Gamal Mubarak has repeatedly denied harbouring ambitions to take over from his father. But opposition members have charged that his meteoric rise within the ruling party and his increasing public appearances indicate an intention to become the country s next president.
If [President Mubarak] only changes Article 76, it means the regime is opening the way for Gamal Mubarak, says George Ishak, spokesman for the secular opposition movement Kefaya, which staged an unprecedented campaign against Mubarak in the run-up to the September 2005 presidential election.
To make real change, Ishak said, Mubarak would have to amend Article 77 of the constitution which currently allows the president to run for office for indefinite periods of time, imposing no term limits.
Mubarak is currently serving his fifth six-year term.
These two articles are the core of presidential tyranny and without changing them in a way that satisfies all political forces, Egypt will only be dabbling in a precarious democracy, Amr Hashem Rabie of the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies recently told the English language Ahram Weekly.
In September 2005, Mubarak won 88 percent of the votes during the country s first ever multi-candidate elections. The next presidential election is to take place in 2011. The constitutional amendment is expected to be discussed during the next parliamentary session, which is due to start on Nov. 8.