Uncertainty over choice of candidate clouds poll

Wed, May 23, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:EGYPT’S REVOLUTIONARIES are bitterly disappointed over their country’s first multicandidate presidential election, due to take place today and tomorrow with the run-off between the two frontrunners in mid-June.

Although 12 candidates are standing, none embodies the spirit or the ambitions of the uprising that toppled 30-year president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

In an interview with Al-Ahram, Egypt’s semi-official daily, veteran journalist and commentator Muhammad Hassanein Haikal spoke for most of his countrymen and women when he said, “I am still hesitant about participating in the presidential election. I do not know for whom I shall vote.”

Polls taken over the past two months have shown that 40 per cent of potential voters are undecided, making the race unpredictable.

The four main competitors are liberal Muslim fundamentalist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fattouh, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Muslim Brotherhood figure Muhammad Mursi, and Mubarak-era minister Ahmad Shafiq, who is said to have the backing of the military and official media. Among the others are a fundamentalist commentator, a judge, a labour activist, and an Arab nationalist (Nasserite).

Half are standing as independents, all but one of the others for parties created after the uprising. The sole veteran party with clout is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice, headed by Mursi.

Twenty-three potential candidates put themselves forward but 10 were disqualified by the election commission and one stepped down in favour of Moussa.

The secular revolutionaries who mounted the uprising failed to unite behind a single candidate, although some have extended their support to Abul Fattouh because they believe he can bridge the gulf between the majority of devout Egyptians and liberal secularists. However, many liberals and Coptic Christians fear, once in office, he could revert to the conservative stands taken by the mainstream Brotherhood. Copts say they will vote for a secular candidate but have not agreed on which.

Although the new president is slated to take office at the end of June, the powers of the post-Mubarak executive have not yet been defined. The country’s new constitution has not yet been drafted and the commission, appointed by parliament to write a new text, has been disbanded because it was dominated by Muslim fundamentalists.

Under the rules introduced after Mubarak fell, presidents could serve two four-year terms. This is not expected to change in the new constitution.

Most Egyptians insist that the wide powers enjoyed by Mubarak should be limited and there should be a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. However, the 1950s system confers power on the president, always a military man. The military, which has wielded power behind the scenes, is determined to retain control over its budget, its economic empire and the right to declare war.

While liberal Egyptians believe the armed forces should not be free of accountability or enjoy the authority held over the past six decades, it is believed that the military council could delay the handover until its demands, couched in supra-constitutional documents, are met.

Eighty per cent of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters said in a poll they would cast ballots in the first round and 73 per cent in the second. Many hope this election will bring an end to the repeated popular consultations that have been staged in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising and bring a fresh start for the country.