By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: The schedule set by the committee supervising Egypt’s presidential election does not give sufficient time for the registration process or campaigning, argued candidates and politicians, who also cited issues with the funding regulations.
“This timeline is insufficient…there should have been more time to complete the registration process and the campaigning should be at least double what was decided,” political analyst Hassan Nafea told Daily News Egypt on Thursday.
Head of the Supreme Presidential Election Committee, Farouk Sultan, announced in a press conference Wednesday that registration for Egypt’s first post-Hosni Mubarak election will begin March 10 and end April 8. The campaigning process will last 21 days, starting April 30.
Ali Bahnasawy, media spokesman for presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh’s campaign, agreed.
Bahnasawy explained that the signatures of the 30,000 eligible voters, which each candidate must obtain, had to be documented in an official form issued by the Supreme Committee.
“The committee hasn’t issued this official form yet…we have to start working now to collect 30,000 [proxies] from 15 governorates,” he said.
Presidential hopeful Mortada Mansour agreed, saying that individual candidates who aren’t popular with the media will face difficulty garnering voters’ support.
“These obscure figures could have better political programs and serve the people more than the popular figures, but they won’t have enough time to campaign,” he told DNE.
Mansour officially announced his presidential bid at a press conference Wednesday.
While recent weeks have seen a surge in the number of presidential hopefuls, some candidates made their intentions clear a year ago. Though not yet officially registered, these presidential hopefuls have for months highlighted the main points of their electoral programs in numerous media appearances, conferences and rallies.
Independent candidates must secure the support of 30,000 eligible voters from 15 of Egypt’s 27 governorates to be able to run, with a minimum of 1,000 signatures from each location. Alternatively, they are eligible if endorsed by 30 Members of Parliament.
Nafea said he is beginning to suspect that the state of confusion and chaos in running the transition period is intentional.
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) only announced that it would hand over power to civilian rule by the end of June after the pressure of mass protests,” he said, adding that SCAF refused calls to start registration for presidential election immediately after the People’s Assembly was elected in January.
Bahnasawy said the electoral committee will specify banks where candidates can receive campaign donations after the final list of candidates is announced on April 26. This gives candidates less than one month to raise money for their ongoing campaigns, for which the spending limit was set at LE 10 million ($1.66 million). Bahnasawy also described this amount as being “not enough.”
MP Basel Adel, representing the Free Egyptians Party, agreed, drawing on his experience in campaigning for parliamentary elections.
“We needed to spend more than that during the parliamentary elections which didn’t include 27 governorates for each candidate,” he said.
Others, however, argued that the spending limit was too high for any independent candidate.
“Most of the independent candidates can’t afford to pay LE 10,000 and the idea of donations isn’t very [popular] in Egypt if we rule out foreign funding,” Mansour said.
Given the ongoing economic crisis spurred by the 18-day revolt in 2011, expenses need to be restricted to the bare minimum, said Wafiq El-Ghitany, senior member of Al-Wafd Party, while arguing in favor of lowering the spending limit.
Still the main issue for most political powers is the lack of regulations or methods to monitor the spending limit, regardless of the exact amount.
“This is just a formality that could be easily breached by the candidates,” said Nafea.
On the other hand, former prime minister and presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood said that they accepted the timeline and deemed it appropriate.
“I accept all the legal rules announced by the election committee that applies on all candidates,” Shafiq said in a press release Thursday.
“I’m ready to run in the presidential election under all circumstances,” he added.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan echoed Shafiq’s stance, saying that the presidential election is the final step in the transition.
The Brotherhood said it will not nominate a presidential candidate from the group or its Freedom and Justice Party, adding that it would announce its support to a candidate with an Islamic background when registration is concluded.
Back to basics
Away from the procedures of the election, some fundamental issues remain unresolved.
Nafea pointed out that Article 28 of the constitutional decree raised speculations that there could be foul play. The article guarantees immunity for the supervising committee’s decisions against legal appeals, which has left some parliamentarians fuming.
Sultan, who also heads the Supreme Constitutional Court, argued during Wednesday’s conference that this law was issued to guarantee stability and secure the new president in his post by avoiding filing several complaints against the election results.
“This is due to the importance of the post of the president and its stability,” he told reporters.
However, Nafea said “the announced reasons may be completely different from the real reasons behind this law, and we’ve suffered from lack of transparency ever since the former regime.”
Activists who’ve been campaigning for a swift end to military rule are skeptical of the ruling generals’ intention regarding the transition to democracy and handing over power to an elected civilian authority.
Many are worried the military council will continue to run the show via a president they help into power.
The People’s Assembly amended Articles 30 and 38 of the presidential election law — which the military council issued days before the parliament first convened in January — stripping the supervising committee of some of authorities, instead delegating them to the electoral subcommittees and electoral general committees.
The amendments were referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court to decide whether they are constitutional or not within 15 days. Sultan said the committee will abide by the final verdict issued by the court.
Even if the amendments are approved, Nafea said, it’s not enough to guarantee the integrity and transparency of the election.
Sultan said that media and civil society organizations will be allowed to “observe” not “monitor” the presidential election under certain restrictions that preserve the order and electoral process, which will be announced later.
Recent weeks have seen a surge in the number of presidential hopefuls, including Khaled Ali, who officially announced his bid last week.