Egyptian Elections Designed For A Win

Egyptians go to the polls Sunday in parliamentary elections. NPR's Soraya Nelson tells Host Liane Hansen that the ruling National Democratic Party expects a big win while members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood are contending for seats as independents. Civil society groups are forecasting widespread fraud.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Voters go to the polls in Egypt today to select a new parliament. Many in the Arab worlds most populous nation predict the contest will be marred by violence and fraud. The results are expected to tighten the hold of President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party on the parliament, and the country in general. Soon after the polling stations opened, reports began to surface of voters and independent monitors being refused entry.

NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. And Soraya, what exactly is at stake today?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, this is the first parliamentary election - or, I should say, the most recent one since 2005. And there are more than 5,000 candidates running to fill 508 seats.

This new parliament is going to include 64 seats exclusively for women, and this fulfills a Mubarak pledge - President Mubarak's pledge to include more women in government, although women can run for other seats as well.

Now, on the more difficult side, hundreds of candidates opposed to the ruling party have been barred by the government from running, even after the relatively independent judiciary here ruled that they should be allowed to run. And so it's also important to note that the government has removed judiciary oversight from the process and is limiting voting to one day, which makes it very difficult for independent monitors to keep tabs on fraud and violence.

HANSEN: Is it possible to predict the outcome?

NELSON: Well, no matter who you talk to here in Egypt, everybody says the National Democratic Party, which is the ruling party, will win. They did not get a majority last time. Partly, that was because they ended up rejecting, if you will, some of their candidates in favor of others. And then the people went out and voted, and so some of these former NDP people ended up taking over again...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NELSON: ...or ended up winning, I should say. And so then the government had to woo them back into the fold. So they chose not to make that mistake this time. So they flooded the field with more than 830 candidates, and so there's just very little doubt among peoples minds here that even barring fraud and violence, that the ruling party will take firm control.

HANSEN: You say barring fraud and violence; it's predicted that theyre going to mar the polls. What do you think?

NELSON: Well, certainly we've had one death being reported today. This was a son of a candidate, who the government said was stabbed. And there have been crackdowns in violence against Muslim Brotherhood candidates. And I should say that the Muslim Brotherhood is technically banned here, but they have candidates - or independents that by proxy, are their candidates. And there's been a very significant crackdown by the government on the candidates, and on their campaigners in the weeks leading up to the polls.

Now, you have to compare this to the last parliamentary polls, where 14 people were reported to have been killed. But its early, and so oftentimes these sort of reports dont trickle in 'til even days later.

In terms of fraud, it's clear that the ruling party doesn't seem to be leaving anything to chance. Security forces are very strictly controlling who comes in and out of the polling stations. And in some of the districts, we've seen them allowing only certain voters to go in - sort of like cherry picking, if you will, among people who have registration cards.

As well as this, you have ruling party campaigning thats still continuing inside and outside of the polling stations, which is technically illegal but no one is doing anything about that. And some journalists - including those for NPR - who are accredited here, have government permission to go into the polls, are being prevented by these security forces from going in.

And last but not least, you don't have independent monitors in there, either. Candidates, representatives and others who have documentation thats supposed to allow them to go in are being prevented from going in by the security forces.

So it wants to rule out - the government wants to rule out any challenge, and especially any challenge from parliament to who it might name as a successor to Hosni Mubarak in presidential elections next year, if the incumbent doesn't run.

HANSEN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo, covering today's parliamentary elections in Egypt. Thank you so much.

NELSON: Youre welcome.

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