CAIRO: Electing a member of parliament to represent them is a new experience for most Egyptians as they head to the polls later this month.
To choose from the vast number of candidates, voters will have to read the programs thoroughly to cast their ballots to the program they endorse.
A number of former stalwart figures of parliament, new candidates, and civil society initiatives are intensifying their calls upon voters, less than two weeks from election day, to take into account the importance of the upcoming parliament that would form the constituent body that would draft the constitution.
"A constitution should be drafted on the basis of societal consensus not the majority of voices. Therefore, all political powers should be represented in the most important parliament in recent memory," said Essam Sheha, legal expert and former Al-Wafd Party-affiliated MP.
However, Sheha criticized the electoral propaganda implemented by some candidates, especially those affiliated to the Islamic mainstream.
"A large population is struggling under the poverty line which facilitates the process of ‘buying votes’ exercised by some candidates," he said.
At least one party of the Islamic mainstream, he claimed, distributed large amounts of meat in Al-Adha feast. "They think they will pass to the parliament through the entrails of the poor," he said.
Farid Ismail, member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), hurled the indictment on the former regime and its affiliated candidates. "They are used to disburse funds and provide services to the people to buy their votes," he told Daily News Egypt.
"The former regime burdened MPs with the job of the municipalities that is providing services to people to hinder them from performing their main function of monitoring the government and enacting laws and legislations in favor of Egyptians," Ismail, who is a former MP and an FJP candidate in Sharqeya, said.
This, he explained, consolidated a mistaken belief among the people that the chief role of an MP is to become a service provider and problem-solver.
The first-time candidate Samuel Beshay agreed, saying, "The old history and deeds of the former regime are the main reason behind this prevailing misinterpretation."
Sometimes, he added, former MPs used to receive money from the people under the pretext that they are providing them with services.
This, he said, should be totally eliminated.
He went on saying that the parliament, especially the coming one, must make sure that the laws and legislations are enacted to satisfy all sects and categories of the society; and that is the MPs’ main role.
The second role, he said, is to monitor the government and its expenditures to make sure it is balanced.
"Then, the MP would represent his constituency as a part of Egypt. We should think in a strategic way; the parliament is not a municipality, but its members should help in their constituency by solving public problems and question the government about those problems," Beshay added.
He believes that no MP will be able to do that by himself.
There should be, he said, a connection between the MP and the members of his constituency to let the people themselves act in the parliament through their elected MP by setting his priorities and suggesting solutions.
Beshay attributed the misperception of a large sector of the people to the chief function of an MP to long-established culture, bad education and administration of the country.
However, he, along with Ismail and Sheha, believe that people post the revolution started to think differently and seek new faces that would perform efficiently for their benefit.
To encourage the voters to do so, the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) issued videos to educate people about the difference between the role of municipalities and MPs.
The SEC’s videos try to inform voters about the basis on which they should elect MPs, trying to convince them that they do not act as service providers or to cover up for the failure of municipalities.
Meanwhile, Sheha believes that the youth who were able to mobilize the large numbers they gathered in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that toppled the former president, would be able to educate them about the importance of electing MPs on the right basis.
Youth gathered around this idea a few months ago and established various initiatives to raise the awareness of the public about the elections.
El-Sout El-Wa’y (the conscious vote) is an initiative that has been focusing on changing the prevailed perception that wrongly stereotype MPs, according to its founder Mohamed Mansour.
"We are trying to raise awareness among the public regarding the importance of the upcoming parliament that would affect the lives of following generations," he said.
Mansour told DNE that his initiative is using videos and photographs that deliver the message they want to convey better than words.
Stressing that the initiative is staying neutral and does not sway people’s views towards specific candidates at the expense of others, Mansour said that they seek to encourage people to think and set their own priorities when comprehensively studying the programs of all candidates; parties or individuals.
"Before, people used to be driven by certain trends and used to follow each other without thinking. From now on they have to evaluate things by themselves and according to the information they have," he said.
Mansour called upon NGOs to support such initiatives that aim at informing the public and encouraged youth to participate in putting people in the picture when it comes to serious issues like the elections.
Some other youth groups made use of their artistic talents to raise awareness among the public on the importance of recognizing some parties’ promises to provide services or money as a way to earn votes.
El-Conto Karaoke band prepared a song for that purpose, sarcastically warning voters from different candidates’ mainstreams that only promise services in the name of electoral campaigning.
The song summarized it all by saying, "Beware of businessmen; they promise you meat to take the parliament…beware of the MB; they promise you heaven to take the parliament…beware of the leftist; they don’t promise you anything and don’t take the parliament…beware of the liberals; they tell you everyone suits himself except for electing others…beware of the named mainstreams…they promise you meat, heaven, nothing or tell you suit yourself to win the parliament."