Out of some 53 million eligible voters, tens of millions are expected to partake in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections. An untold number of others are undecided, will not participate, or are actively boycotting the elections.
One of the first groups to announce its boycott of the presidential elections is the (center-leftist) National Front for Justice and Democracy.
According to one of its chief members, Mohamed Waked, “we are boycotting because there are no clear indicators of what these elections will lead to. Especially given that the new constitution has not yet been drafted, and nobody knows what the new president’s powers and authorities will entail.”
On this basis, presidential hopefuls cannot promise to stick to their electoral programs because their jurisdiction has not yet been determined, according to Waked.
Indeed, pressing questions are still looming, such as whether the power-sharing scheme between the executive and the legislative branches of the state will remain a presidential system or change to a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. Moreover, the role of the interim rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in the state following the elections has not yet publicly been determined.
According to Waked “the political system in Egypt will be tailored according to whoever wins. The nature of the state and the executive will be determined according to the victor.”
Waked pondered whether or not the SCAF will retain the right to dissolve parliament, or if the next president will be empowered to do so. Will the president have authority over the military institution and judiciary — or is this out of bounds? “The outlook is gray and murky. It is still unclear which authorities will have which powers.”
Waked said that there are around six or seven revolutionary groupings who have joined in the boycott called by the National Front for Justice and Democracy. Among these small groups is Ha’enna (Our Right – previously a campaign front for reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then also running in the elections) along with the Second Egyptian Revolution Coalition.
On Wednesday, the Mosereen Cultural Cooperative hosted a round-table discussion entitled "Presidential Elections… Boycott or Participation?" Dozens of participants were in attendance, the vast majority of whom were under 35 years of age and generally supported boycotting. Only around three participants — two of them over 35 — expressed their support for participation.
Nearly all boycotters claimed that the vote will boil down, in the second round of elections, to a vote between remnants/representatives of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s regime and power-hungry Islamists.
According to the leftist youth activist, Tarek Shalaby, “Mubarak’s verdict [in a trial in which he is charged with corruption and killing protesters, due to be issued on 2 June] will be issued and sandwiched between the first and second rounds of elections. This is not a coincidence; it is intended to distract the populace from this court trial.”
Another socialist activist, Rasha Azab argued “parliamentary elections were held in November when the police and armed forces where killing protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. These elections are intended to distract us from the real revolution.”
Azzab mocked Mubarak’s successor, claiming that he would be a powerless puppet in the hands of his political overlords. “The next president will be a shoe/boot on the SCAF’s foot, a slipper on the Islamists feet, and a pair of wooden clogs on the feet of Israel and the United States.”
Pierre Sioufi, a middle-aged activist, began the discussion by encouraging people to take to the streets during the election days, rather than boycotting by staying at home. Sioufi and others called for “an active and vocal boycott, as opposed to a passive boycott.”
Others called for a campaign of posters and/or street art to raise awareness about the reasons behind the boycott.
But an activist participating in the discussion reckoned that staying at home is a better option for practical reasons. “We should stay at home during election days, because our numbers will be dwarfed in comparison to those voting. The anti-boycott camp will point to us and argue that we are a tiny misguided minority.”
This activist went on to recommend “we should stay at home, and claim all those who did the same as being in our camp.”
Another youth participant recommended nullifying ballots, “by crossing off all the names, or by writing the name of the martyr Khaled Saeed on the ballots.” However, another activist responded by saying “nullifying your ballot still counts as participating in the elections — albeit that your voice is discarded.”
Yet activist Wael Khalil argued against the boycott, claiming that “every revolution has a leadership — for example the French revolution and Russian revolution. Otherwise the revolution will be misled and will not have a clear trajectory.”
An elderly woman participant denounced the calls for boycott on the basis that it doesn’t have a critical following. “You are wasting your time and effort with your calls for a boycott. You represent only 1 percent or less of the population; the vast majority of whom want to rebuild a new democratic Egyptian state.”
Khalil commented, “if we elect a democratic president then we can guarantee that all future elections will be free, fair and representative.”
But Azzab said she expects the upcoming vote to be rigged: “there will be no difference between the presidential elections of 2005 and the presidential elections of 2012.”
But so far the calls for a boycott have not been competing strongly with the campaigning of presidential hopefuls hoping to lure voters to cast ballots in their favor.
Calls for elections' boycott have also been made ahead of the parliamentary elections which kicked off in November of last year. Activists defending the boycott also thought the elections were a distraction from the revolutionary path.