Ruling party rivals compete in Egypt parliament vote

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Supporters of rival candidates relaxed and joked outside a polling station in Egypt’s Nile Delta. There was no competition here. Both hopefuls were from President Hosni Mubarak’s party.

A week after a first round vote that monitors said was discredited by violence and abuses, the run-offs proceeded with little drama and a guaranteed crushing majority for the National Democratic Party (NDP). Two opposition groups quit in disgust.

Partly in its bid to shove out opposition Islamists from parliament, the ruling party fielded far more candidates than seats. So, many run-offs pit NDP members against each other, Reuters reports.
“We are brothers, they are both NDP. Anyone is more than welcome to enter and vote for any of them,” said Emad Fayek, standing outside a polling station in Tanta where voters can choose the NDP candidate he backs or another from the party. But analysts said the one-sided parliament emerging meant the NDP would struggle to prove the assembly had credibility, despite official insistence that the vote was free and fair.
“They will have a newly elected assembly which has no legitimacy because of the violations and the diminished opposition,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, and the second biggest opposition group Wafd have both pulled out of the race.
“Without anyone else to fight, NDP parliamentarians may be forced to fight each other, something which is likely to be exacerbated by the party’s internal divisions over who is to succeed their ailing president,” said Hamid.

Mubarak, 82, in power since 1981, had gallbladder surgery earlier this year but has returned to a full work schedule. He has not said if he will run in next year’s presidential race. The ruling party has dismissed talk of one-sided run-offs.

HURLING CHARGES
“It is inaccurate that the NDP is competing with itself in this round,” NDP official Mohamed Kamal told a televised news conference. “Several independents and Wafd party members have been spotted by our central operation rooms across the country participating.”

But the lack of an opposition did not stop some NDP members hurling charges at each other as they vied for seats analysts said would win them status and influence in their districts.

Ahmed Saif, an NDP candidate in Shebeen el Kom in the Nile Delta, said his rival Samer el-Tallaway, who is also member of the NDP but not on the official list, had bribed voters with cash and hired thugs to tip the race in his favour.

Tallawy’s cousin, Ahmed, dismissed the charges. He said the two candidates shared some family ties and that if Saif won, “I will be the first to congratulate him”. The ruling party ran many more candidates than the 508 seats up for grabs in this race. A party official said this was partly to squeeze out Islamists and partly to avoid upsetting rival clans in areas where more than one family wanted the NDP seat.
“As a member of parliament you can promote your own business, you have immunity and different career opportunities and this is what fuels competition among NDP candidates,” said Amr Hamzawi of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut said.

Independent monitors cited abuses such as vote manipulation, hired thugs to intimidate voters, and other abuses. The High Elections Commission said complaints were being checked, but said they did not invalidate the overall vote.

Some of last week’s tactics against the opposition also appeared to have been reversed in run-offs in an apparent bid to make the assembly more diverse. One monitoring group said the authorities were helping out some independents.
“Security forces are intervening on behalf of independent candidates,” the Egyptian Association for Community Participation reported from monitors it had deployed at hundreds of polling stations around the country.



It said abuses included spoiling of ballot papers inside polling stations that were marked in favour of NDP candidates. An independent affiliated with the NDP in Gharbiya area jumped aboard the Generation Party on the eve of the run-off after the two parties struck a deal to make the new parliament more credible, a local Generation Party official said.
“Their response is to embrace five to six smaller parties and say they are part of the opposition,” said the official, Ramadan Abo Hamed. The NDP and the headquarters of the Generation Party in Cairo denied any deal for a switch of allegiance.