Why Egypt’s elections won’t be like Tunisia’s

Wendell Steavenson describes the complex rules that will operate in Egypt’s upcoming elections: Overall, this system seems to me to do its utmost to disconnect the voter from the consequence of his checked ballot paper.

All the way along, there will be Egypt’s traditional electoral mayhem: thugs, intimidation, cash handouts, ballot stuffing, strong-arm local families, clan and mosque. Most people think there is bound to be violence (there always is), and the obfuscation of lawsuits countering close or convoluted results (there always are). If people don’t understand what they are voting for, and if the results are obscured by irregularities, the Egyptian people will have no sense that they have participated in a free and fair election.

In any case, the mandate of the new parliament will be, as far as I can tell, to do one thing only. To elect, choose, or appoint (the mechanism remains totally unclear) within a given six month period, a hundred member constitutional committee that will then have a further six months to draft a new constitution. The new constitution will then be ratified (or maybe not) by national referendum. Subsequently, presidential elections will be held—perhaps some time in 2013.

Whatever shop-assembly version emerges, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces have made it clear they will retain control over the appointment of the Prime Minister and the cabinet as well as control over the budget. Egyptians will not be voting in a new government. The nasty irony may be that if the crowds in Tahrir Square had accepted Mubarak’s proposal to step down in September, they might have elected a new President by now. (How free those elections would be is another question.) Increasingly it has begun to appear that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces wants to stretch a transition out over the longest possible time frame, affording it, inevitably, greater control.

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