By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Al-Wafd Party confirmed Thursday that it will withdraw from the runoff elections on Dec. 5 along with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), amid wide accusations of fraud and violations in the parliamentary elections.
“The Wafd will stand united with the nation against those who tried to steal and appropriate their vote/voice. The Wafd will be a partner for the people, not in conspiracy against them,” Wafd Party leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawy said after an over three hour board meeting.
“The flagrant forging that took place in these elections exceeded all expectations and all boundaries,” Saad El-Katatni, the head of the former MB parliamentary bloc, told Daily News Egypt.
“The most pessimistic people [towards Egypt’s democracy] would have never expected this outcome,” El-Katatni said.
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won 217 parliamentary seats in the first round, while Egypt’s largest opposition group, the MB, got none, despite having won 88 seats in 2005, representing nearly 20 percent of the outgoing parliament.
Al-Wafd won only two seats, while Al-Tagammu, Al-Ghad and El-Adala opposition parties won one seat each.
The runoffs were slated to include 377 NDP candidates, 140 independents, 26 MB-affiliated independent candidates, nine Al-Wafd candidates and six members of Al-Tagammu.
“In withdrawing we have decided to stand with the people and not their fraudulent parliament. We will pursue this parliament using all legal routes until we prove its invalidity,” Al-Badawy said.
Al-Wafd’s announcement on Thursday followed turbulent scenes as supporters of Atef El-Ashmouny, a Wafd candidate in El-Matareya, Cairo, demonstrated against the Wafd’s decision to withdraw which had been announced on Wednesday.
Chanting and holding up banners a group of around 50 men entered the Wafd’s headquarters before attempting to push their way into the boardroom.
Those against the withdrawal said they made sacrifices in the first round of the elections. Having one Al-Wafd representative in the People’s Assembly is better than none, they said.
One Wafd member personally witnessed incidents of vote rigging during the first round of voting on Sunday but who is nonetheless against withdrawing said, “I understand the National Democratic Party’s policy very well: a kitchen in which they cook everything. If the ruling party were respectable then withdrawing would have had some weight and meaning. But withdrawing won’t do anything.”
Another anti-withdrawal Wafdist, Sherif Mounir said that rather than withdrawing, the Wafd should never have entered the elections in the first place.
Tareq El-Kashef who stood for election in Badrasheen, Kafr El-Sheikh alleged that El-Ashmawy’s supporters “are not real Wafdists and are not here in support of withdrawal or against it. They are merely chanting in support Atef El-Ashmouny.”
El-Kashef said that he and other Wafd candidates who decided to run were “surprised” by the vote rigging and other violations that took place on Sunday because “the President had promised that the elections would be clean. We took this promise seriously”.
Opposition and rights groups accused the NDP of many violations, including ballot stuffing, vote rigging and denying the representatives of various opposition parties entry into the polling stations despite their possession of notarized permits.
On Tuesday evening, the Administrative Court issued a verdict which annulled the elections in Shoubra El-Kheima as well as five other districts in the Qaliubiya governorate.
According to Mohamed El-Beltagi, an independent candidate affiliated with the MB in Shoubra El-Kheima, the Administrative Court stated that Nov. 28 parliamentary elections in those districts were unconstitutional.
“I filed a complaint calling for the annulment of the elections on [Nov. 28],” El-Beltagi told Daily News Egypt. “None of my representatives were present in the 289 polling stations in Shoubra even though they had notarized permits allowing them [access].
“The whole world saw and documented the rigging and buying of votes in these elections.”
Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) spokesman Sameh El-Kashef said during a press conference on Tuesday that, while some “transgressions” did occur, they “did not undermine the probity and integrity of the first round results.”
“We agreed to enter the elections with minimal guarantees [of transparent elections],” Hamdy Hassan, spokesman of the MB parliamentary bloc, told Daily News Egypt. “But what took place can’t even be called elections. There were no elections.
“In 2005, we had elections. But this year, with no judicial supervision, the elections were flagrantly rigged and manipulated.”
In 2005, there was direct supervision from judges over each ballot box in every polling station. In this year’s elections, however, the judges stayed in the security directorate of each constituency in order to receive complaints of election violations from observing citizens. The 2010 election were thus supervised by judges and judicial staff.
El-Kashef told Daily News Egypt that the SEC does not deal with parties — only individual candidates. He added that the SEC has not been informed that any of the candidates have withdrawn.
According to El-Kashef, candidates are only allowed to withdraw their nominations prior to the first round of the elections, having until the day before election day in order to do so. El-Kashef added that the SEC does not permit candidates to withdraw after elections have already transpired.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst from Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, told Daily News Egypt that the SEC cannot force the MB or Al-Wafd candidates to participate in the runoff elections.
“By the opposition’s announcement to withdraw from the runoff elections, they are telling their supporters not to vote for them because their votes are useless,” said Abdel Fattah.
“We will not participate in the campaigning, or meet [with voters], or go to the polling stations,” El-Katatni said. “That [is how] we are telling the people that we’ve withdrawn from the elections.”
Abdel Fattah stipulated that this withdrawal is a “tough blow” to the NDP and their violations in the elections.
“This will lead to the [restructuring and unification] of opposition groups outside Egypt’s parliament, and their gathering around the former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei,” Abdel Fattah added.
ElBaradei initiated a call to all opposition groups to boycott the elections, as the government refused to give guarantees of free and fair elections and failed to comply with ElBaradei’s seven demands for change and reform, which included the annulment of the emergency law and granting international organizations the right to monitor the elections.
“These elections have proven that ElBaradei’s call was right,” Abdel Fattah said. “But at the same time, ElBaradei’s constant absence from Egypt has negatively affected his image among the people and the opposition groups.”
However Al-Tagammu Party has decided to contest in the runoff elections even though the preliminary results showed that it had only won one seat.
“We didn’t enter these elections expecting that it [would] be fair and transparent,” Head of Al Tagammu Party Refaat El Saied told Daily News Egypt. “We knew [the elections] would be forged.”
El Saied added, “Our participation in these elections is what exposed [the NDP’s] rigging of the elections … we want to participate in the People’s Assembly, even with a small number of candidates, so that any legislation won’t be approved without Al-Tagammu voicing its opinion of it.”
Abdel Fattah stated that Al-Tagammu’s decision to contest the runoff elections shows that it is a “weak” and “fake” party.
“These elections showed the NDP’s desire to dominate the elections in a bid to [win] the presidential election that will be held in 2011,” Abdel Fattah said. –Additional Reporting by Sarah Carr and Enas El Masry.
Supporters of Atef El-Ashmouny, chanting against the withdrawal, stormed the Wafd headquarters when a press conference was scheduled to take place. (Daily News Egypt Photo/ Sarah Carr)