“Political parties are buying popular candidates to succeed in parliamentary elections, after failing to foster public support in the few years that followed the revolution of 25 January 2011,” suggested a new study by the Regional Center for Strategic Studies. (RCSS)
The Free Egyptians Party (FEP) and Al-Wafd Party, the largest two currently on the scene besides Al-Nour Salafist Party, came on top of RCSS’ list of eight political parties “purchasing” candidates, raising questions on the types of chosen candidates.
For decades under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the National Democratic Party (NDP) was in control of the parliament. Despite its dissolution after the revolution, there have been fears of its members returning to the political scene, especially given the weakness of political parties in front of well-established politicians whom have acquired popular support over the past years.
Some politicians rejected their return and there has even been a lawsuit to ban them from political life due to involvement in a corrupted system for years, but RCSS stated they were back under the umbrella of new political parties.
On the other hand, Al-Wafd Party’s spokesperson Bahgat El-Hossamy said in comments to Daily News Egypt Monday that claims of “paying off candidates” were untrue. “First, the party’s financial status does not allow it to pay extra costs. Secondly, everybody knows Al-Wafd Party regardless of supporting or opposing it,” he said.
According to El-Hossamy, several large families were initially Wafdists in their history. When the ruling NDP became a meeting point of interests, not ideologies, they had to protect their interests, “but came back to Al-Wafd after the dissolution of NDP,” he added.
El-Hossamy further explained that the NDP had nearly three million members, saying it is “impossible they were all corrupt.” He also claimed he knows members who joined the party seeking reform on the inside.
“Political parties are filtering candidates from MPs from 2000 all the way to 2011. They are after their rivals too,” RCSS said. What would make a candidate eligible would be the degree of his influence in his community.
In the history of the Egyptian parliament, large families and tribes have been in control of electoral constituencies, often commonly named after them within the community. As a result, a member of such a family has better chances of winning the seat of the electoral district.
Al-Wafd did not deny pursuing such centers of power but denied working with “corrupt” politicians. Similarly, FEP sought to comprise such influential candidates, but for a different strategy.
Emad Raouf, FEP member of the political bureau explained that the party conducted polls to understand the public’s criteria for eligible parliamentary elections. “This is how we were able to identify ‘local stars’ with who we negotiate joint interests, not pay off,” Raouf stated.
He added that it was “illogical to buy candidates, because this way we cannot guarantee their loyalty to our party once they become in the parliament.”
Despite that the law forbids MPs from switching political affiliations after the elections, he seems to think there would be no space to hold anybody accountable if that happens, because the suspension of an MP requires a majority of votes.
“I think these are claims made my by rivals who were unable to build popular databases like we did, because we started long time ago, assessed people’s needs, and are already thinking of which legislations should be on top of the parliamentary agenda of discussion once it is elected,” Raouf added.
Another infamous practice that has been ongoing during elections is buying votes, mostly in the form of basic goods such as distributing oil and sugar. In previous in-depth interviews with Daily News Egypt, political analysts argued that this sort of relationship between the voter and the candidate leads to turning them into “MPs of services.”
Farid Zahran, co-founder and vice-president of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) had explained the process as following: “MPs will be aspiring for money and power, in addition to serving their relatives, and the people of their constituency who voted for them.”
This comes amid an existing law which divides the upcoming Egyptian parliament into a majority of over 400 seats elected individually, in comparison to only 20 percent (nearly 120) seats elected through a system of closed lists.
As a result, politicians and analysts estimated that the division comes in favor of independent candidates rather than endorsing political parties, mainly due to lack of the latter’s financial shortage to afford electoral campaigns, in comparison with the political elite.
On the other hand, RCSS’s report slammed those hypotheses by stating that “unlike expectations, the upcoming parliament will include as much if not more, political party members than independent candidates, because they are being bought at the price they set.”
The report favored the fact that political parties have weak popular basis, stating that they have lost the contact they had been able to establish with the people following Mubarak’s downfall in 2011. One reason stated by RCSS is the strong presence of political Islam parties before the end of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013.
“Political money” is a term that has been used by politicians to describe the financial manipulation of elections. It has also been the accusation of Al-Wafd Party to FEP, despite both parties claiming to strongly reject the idea.
In a second round of parliamentary elections’ attempt after a cancellation of the process last March, the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) is yet to announce election dates, expected towards the end of the current month.