The second round in the Egyptian parliamentary elections takes place Sunday (December 5th) amid a tense political atmosphere following the decision by major opposition parties and the banned Muslim Brotherhood group to boycott the runoff.
During the first round of elections the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won 217 out of 508 contested seats outright. The liberal Wafd Party won two seats while the Tagammu and Ghad parties each won one seat. The Muslim Brotherhood won no seats.
The runoff is for 280 seats contested by 570 candidates, including 377 from the NDP, nine from the Wafd Party, six from Tagammu, 13 from the Muslim Brotherhood, plus independents from small opposition parties.
The Wafd Party—the largest opposition party in Egypt—announced its withdrawal from the runoff "to protest the violence, bullying and fraud that marred the electoral process," according to the party's statement last Thursday.
"The withdrawal of the Wafd Party was based upon thousands of letters and calls we received from Wafd supporters over the past few days asking us to withdraw from the elections," party leader Al-Said Badawi said in a press statement.
He said Wafd's withdrawal "does not mean the party will desist from political activity or the struggle for political and economic reform," noting that Wafd would continue to follow its basic principles and will not be affected by "election fraud".
Badawi said, "Wafd will request that President Hosni Mubarak act as an arbiter between the state authorities", explaining that Wafd is prepare a report on the irregularities that marred the electoral process that will be sent to the president.
"The party's decision came out of respect for the principles and history of the Wafd Party, which does not accept participating in an invalid process," Munir Fakhri Abdel Nour, secretary-general of the Wafd Party, told Al-Shorfa.
Abdel Nour, a Wafd candidate in the Gerga district in Manial Governorate, said, "Wafd candidates garnered a lot of public support from the outset, and their loss was unjust."
The Muslim Brotherhood—which has 88 seats in the outgoing parliament—announced last Wednesday it was withdrawing from the runoff after hesitating for three days.
"The Brotherhood Shura Council decided by a majority of its members not to participate," the group said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Tagammu Party announced Thursday it would not withdraw from the elections. Party Chairman Rifaat al-Saeed said, "The party will continue to support candidates in the runoff round in an unequal battle."
Al-Sayyid Abdel-Aziz Omar, the President of the Higher Elections Committee, said that it is "legally impermissible to accept withdrawal of a candidacy by those running in the runoff elections in the parliamentary elections."
Omar told the Middle East News Agency that the deadlines for withdrawing one's candidacy passed before the elections, and it is impermissible to withdraw one's candidacy during the electoral process or the runoff.
In response, Abdel Nour said, "The withdrawal of Wafd is a stance against what is incompatible with its principles and the principles of justice and democracy. Not accepting the withdrawal of candidates will not affect the party's decision to withdraw."
Dr. Amr Shobaki, an expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political Studies, said one of the reasons for Wafd's loss is "the weakness of the party's organisational capabilities in managing a large-scale operation such as elections".
"The role of the [electoral] abuses that occurred in the Wafd candidates' loss cannot be denied, but there was a need for development of strong, local cadres capable of the same level of organisation as the ruling party," he added.
Shobaki dismissed statements by some Wafd Party leaders that they might consider boycotting the presidential election. "The interests of the Wafd Party in the presidential election differ from the parliamentary elections so the Wafd Party would not make this radical decision," he said.
The ruling NDP responded to the opposition parties in a press conference Wednesday.
"History will record the current parliamentary elections [as exhibiting] fairness and transparency with the NDP countering the illegal organisation—the Muslim Brotherhood—which lacked any ability to win in the first stage which was free, impartial and transparent," NDP Secretary-General Safwat al-Sherif said.
Ali Eddin Hilal, the NDP information secretary, said, "The elections are not over yet, and the party is not in a battle, but rather in an electoral competition with other political parties within the framework of the constitution and the law."
Hilal said the party rejects any use of force or departure from the law, whatever its source, and any member who participated in illegal activity