CAIRO: Egyptian voters began heading to the polls Sunday to elect a parliament, the first since the military-led ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013. The vote will mark the final step in what has been billed as a post-Morsi transition to democracy. But critics here and abroad describe it as part of a rolling retrenchment of authoritarian rule nearly five years after long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a 2011 pro-democracy uprising.
Political parties, those that are eligible to run are weak with little popular following. They are hurt even more by the law governing how the election will be run. And there is a general societal atmosphere strongly against public criticism of the government, with many Egyptians seeking stability after years of turmoil that have devastated the economy.
The elections law designates three categories of seats in the 596-seat House of Representatives: those elected through a party list (120 seats or 20 percent), those elected individually (448 seats or 75 percent), and those appointed by the president (28 seats or 5 percent).
Political parties are heavily disadvantaged by an election law, passed by presidential decree last year. The party list that wins an absolute majority will take all the seats in each district, making it harder for small parties to secure seats.
The law also uses the list system to fill quotas of underrepresented minorities. Each 15-candidate party list must include three Christians, two workers or farmers, two youth candidates, a disabled person, and an Egyptian residing abroad. Seven of the 15 candidates must be women.
A full 75 percent of the assembly is reserved for candidates running as individuals, races in which prominent, wealthy local government-affiliated power brokers have a presumed advantage. Moreover, individuals can form a slate and run against parties for the list seats.
The government’s supporters reject the criticism from opposition political parties, insisting the field is wide open for anyone who wants to compete. Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is not a member of any party and portrays himself as being above the political fray.
Another 5 percent of the parliament will be appointed by the president, a measure meant to ensure seats for underrepresented minorities.