Egypt: Election target is a challenge

07 March 2011

The best time to form a new constitution is a contentious issue. A range of parties with distinct policies needs to emerge

When the Egyptian army took control of the country in February, it said elections would be held within six months. While the announcement has been greeted positively by the Egyptian people, many are sceptical that this can be achieved.

Following 30 years of authoritarian rule by one man, Egypt has wiped the slate clean and now faces the prospect of creating a system of government and parties offering real and distinguishable choices within a vacuum.

Former President Hosni Mubarak’s control was supported by a framework that allowed power to gravitate upwards, whereby the president appointed all government ministers. Frustrated by the nepotism this created, Egyptians want a system that shares power and includes more checks and balances between individuals and institutions. This is set to be fulfilled by the creation of a strong parliament.

What is more contentious is the best time to form a new constitution. Some say that the constitution should be written first and then followed by elections held under the new rules. However, doing so would make the target of elections by the end of the summer even more challenging and it could be pushed into 2012.

The economic costs of doing so could be high. Already, the unrest is expected to have doubled the country’s current account deficit. While Egypt has gone back to work, businesses and investors have put off making important decisions until a stable government is in place.

An alternative option is to elect an interim government, which would work on the constitution, and elections could be held shortly afterwards. This would mitigate the damage to the economy to a certain extent. But without a system of political parties, there is a long way to go before elections become meaningful and Egyptians have a real say in how they are governed.

In short, much has to be decided before and after Egyptians go to the polls as political parties and leaders emerge that respond to the demands of the electorate. 

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