Egypt offering no space to opposition: politician


Egypt’s authorities and ruling party have shown they will give little space to the opposition in upcoming elections after barring access to polling stations and other abuses in a May vote, an opposition leader said.

The head of the liberal Democratic Front party, Osama Harb, said the abuses in the vote to the upper house of parliament, in which the ruling party swept almost all seats, vindicated his party’s decision to boycott this and forthcoming elections.

But he said opposition parties should shoulder part of the blame for not securing more political space by failing to galvanise the public and for not offering a real alternative to President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party.
“Egypt’s problem is not only its ruling party but its opposition too and its inability to reach a minimum level of agreement on any issue,” Harb told Reuters in an interview.

Egypt has several officially approved opposition parties, but analysts say their voice has been blunted by infighting often stirred up by the authorities or by being partially co-opted through political concessions offered by the state.

The biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a big grassroots following, is officially banned. It controls 20 percent of seats in the lower house by running candidates as independents but won no seats in the Shura vote.
“People did not vote”

Analysts say new rules that took judges away from monitoring in polling stations have made it easier for the authorities to manipulate ballots, a charge the government dismisses.
“The party boycotted the vote after the government refused the opposition groups’ request to allow judges and international rights’ groups to supervise the election which indicated that the election will get forged,” Harb said.

Harb held a seat in the upper house of parliament for 15 years, including before his party was founded five years ago.

His seat was among the third of the 264 seats in the upper house appointed by the president — one of the concessions analysts say is used to secure a more pliant opposition.

But Harb said he had not taken up a new offer to stay in the upper house after his party’s decision to boycott the vote. He also said the seat had not proved a useful opposition platform.
“This Shura election involved the biggest forgery made in a vulgar way. The people did not go to vote … The government voted instead of them,” Harb said, adding that it showed the authorities had no interest in a “real election”.

Harb, echoing charges by rights groups and Egyptian monitors, accused the authorities and ruling party supporters of blocking opponents from polling stations and filling in ballots.

An official election committee said complaints were investigated and dismissed charges that the vote was rigged.

Much attention is on the presidential vote in 2011. Mubarak, 82 and in power since 1981, has not said if he will run but many Egyptians believe he will lever in his politician son, Gamal, 46, if he does not. Harb said he expected Mubarak to stand.
“Mubarak will stay in power until he dies. Egypt does not have the principle of a retired president,” Harb said, adding only one president since the king was ousted in 1952 had not died in office and he spent many years under house arrest.

Former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei has sharpened debate by saying he might run for president. Harb backs a coalition calling for constitutional changes to help ElBaradei get on the ballot, but the media has already reported bickering over strategy and goals among the coalition members.

Pic: President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt