On May 23rd and 24th, citizens in Egypt voted between thirteen candidatesin what were deemed the first free and fair presidential elections. By Friday evening, state news agencies reported that Mohammed Morsi, chair of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, gained 25.3 percent of votes and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Shafiq gained 24.9 percent with a difference of less than 100,000 between Sabahi, who came in third.
While official results are expected on Tuesday, unofficial counts indicate that the June 16-17 runoff will be held between two polarizing options. Those dissatisfied with the results are increasingly pointing to irregularities in the electoral process or flaws in the electoral system created by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. For example, Egyptians are selecting their president before creating the very constitution that specifies the obligations and powers that their elected officials are to assume. How might this be problematic if Shafiq or Morsi are to assume power?
A Future Reflective of the Past
Let’s remember that Mubarak’s trial still awaits a verdict, and the election of Shafiq, a close member of Mubarak’s cabinet combined with the nature of the Egyptian judiciary, which is not entirely independent, would result in Mubarak being let off in a manner as not to serve justice for the families of those who died during the revolution. Shafiq’s rhetoric of stability represents a return to the status quo and is popular among regime loyalists as well as Coptic Christians and those who fear an Islamist state.
The Parliament that was democratically elected in January consists mostly of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties, and thus the election of Morsi would result in an imbalanced government dominated by Islamists. Writing a constitution under a Muslim Brotherhood president and a majority Islamist parliament would not represent the true interests of Egypt’s pluralistic population.
A Possible Third Candidate and Post-Election Plans
Already, the top two candidates attempts to widen their support have failed. Shafiq’s post-election rhetoric claims to respect the “glorious revolution” but his participation in its very suppression as a member of Mubarak’s cabinet is not forgotten. Hamdeen Sabahi has stated he would not accept a position under Morsi and has instead appealed to the High Commission of Elections for a recount, citing voting irregularities.
Coming in as a close third, Hamdeen Sabahi is a leftist leaning Nasserist supporter whom people have strongly identified with due to his humble origins and for his discussion of important issues such as education and the economy. Unlike Shafiq, who was a member of Mubarak’s regime, and Morsi, whose party was initially opposed to the revolution, Sabahi is noted for his participation in the January 25th Revolution and his creation of the Karama (Dignity) Party. If Tuesday’s official results are by any chance to put him in second place, he would become a runoff candidate.
A Flaw in the System
It is ironic that the two leading candidates elected by the first free and fair elections brought about by the January 25th Revolution do not resemble the ideals of the revolution, overcoming an authoritarian regime and the decades-long socioeconomic and political oppression of the past. Some might say that the results putting Morsi and Shafiq at the top might indicate that Egyptians’ revolutionary zeal is over, and that instead, political parties with years-long organization have triumphed. However, when counted together, the votes of Egyptians indicate a majority for those candidates whose ideals have more consistently supported the revolution, namely, Sabahi and Abol Fotouh. Therefore it is frustrating that the current Egyptian electoral system requiring the winning candidate to gain fifty percent of the votes — as opposed, for example, to a preferential voting system, an instant runoff where voters indicate their first, second, and third choice candidates — results in a polarized contest that does not represent the vast moderate population. This alternative system would ensure that votes for independent parties are not wasted, and that the third place moderate, Hamdeen Sabahi, would have had a chance in the runoff.
Despite the dismal election results, however, there is assurance in the fact that these are only the first of many more post-revolutionary democratic elections to come and that no longer will any single leader cling onto the seat of power for decades.