Egyptian election set to cement Sisi's leadership

Security forces inspecting people arriving to cast their votes outside a school used as a polling station in Alexandria, Egypt, yesterday. Many Egyptians tired of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak support Mr Abdel Fattah al-Sis
Security forces inspecting people arriving to cast their votes outside a school used as a polling station in Alexandria, Egypt, yesterday. Many Egyptians tired of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak support Mr Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.PHOTO: REUTERS

Outcome clear as parliamentary polls, to end on Dec 2, see lack of opposition contenders

CAIRO • Polling opened in Egypt for a much-delayed parliamentary election that will tighten President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's grip on power after he crushed all opposition since ousting his Islamist predecessor.

The vote for the 596-member Parliament will be staged in two phases, ending on Dec 2, with Egyptians abroad casting their votes for the first round from Saturday.

But with an absence of opposition parties - including the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood - polling has inspired none of the enthusiasm witnessed for Egypt's first democratic elections in 2011.

Experts say the outcome of the election is a foregone conclusion and only voter turnout will be a gauge of popularity for Mr Sisi, who has enjoyed a cult-like status since he ousted his predecessor Mohamed Mursi in 2013.

Most of the more than 5,000 candidates support Mr Sisi and are expected to dominate Parliament.

"It's really a Parliament... to keep things as they are, to give an image of democracy," said Dr Hazem Hosny, a political science professor at Cairo University.

Many Egyptians tired of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak support Mr Sisi, who has vowed to revive an ailing economy and restore stability amid a deadly crackdown that targets supporters of his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Mursi.

Mursi, who was Egypt's first freely elected civilian leader, was ousted by then army chief Sisi on July 3, 2013, after mass street protests against his divisive year-long rule.

An ensuing government crackdown overseen by Mr Sisi and targeting Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement left hundreds dead and thousands jailed.

Hundreds including Mursi have been sentenced to death after speedy trials, which the United Nations denounced as "unprecedented in recent history".

Mr Sisi, meanwhile, won a presidential election last year.

Scores of policemen and soldiers have been killed in militant attacks since the crackdown on Islamists began, with the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group leading a deadly insurgency in North Sinai.

The Constitution empowers Parliament to move a no-confidence motion against the president and also gives lawmakers 15 days to review all presidential decrees.

But experts say that the ability of parliamentarians might be close to zero given the absence of any real opposition.

The Brotherhood dominated the last assembly but has now been banned after being blacklisted as a "terrorist organisation", while leftist and secular movements that led the 2011 uprising are boycotting or are badly represented in the polls.

The Brotherhood had been the main opposition force for decades, fielding candidates in parliamentary elections under Mr Mubarak despite an official ban.

It took 44 per cent of seats in the first free democratic elections following Mubarak's ouster in 2011.

The main coalition is the pro-Sisi For the Love of Egypt, which includes the liberal Free Egyptians Party founded by telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, and the Al-Wafd Party, also liberal. It aims to win two-thirds of the seats.

The Egyptian Front, led by Mr Ahmed Shafiq, Mr Mubarak's last premier, is another key coalition, and the openly pro-Sisi Salafist Al-Nur party that backed Mursi's ouster is the only Islamist party standing.

About 55 million voters are eligible to cast their votes in the two-stage election across the country's 27 provinces, with polling in the first stage to be held over two days.

Any run-off in the first phase will be contested on Oct 27 to 28. The second phase starts on Nov 21.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Egyptian election set to cement Sisi's leadership'. Print Edition | Subscribe