Egypt’s presidential hopefuls push for earlier elections

Many Egyptians suspect that militar council wants to hold on to power even after handover of power to civilian government.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa Egypt 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Abdallah Dalsh)
Arab League chief Amr Moussa Egypt 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Abdallah Dalsh)
Six presidential hopefuls say they want Egypt’s first free election for head of state to be held in April, far earlier than the timetable envisaged by the ruling military council.
Egypt’s generals have not set a date, but under a timetable that involves a parliamentary vote followed by drawing up a new constitution, analysts said the presidential race may not happen until the end of 2012 or early 2013.
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Many Egyptians suspect that the military council, which took control after Hosni Mubarak was driven from office, wants to hold on to power from behind the scenes even after handing over day-to- day affairs to the civilian government.
The military denies any such intentions. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Wednesday dismissed talk that the military might propose a candidate for the presidency.
Tantawi “denied the existence of a candidate for the military establishment” in the presidential election, the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported. “We should not waste time discussing rumors,” it quoted Tantawi as saying.
“Don’t let this drag on, so that we don’t lose all hope,” Hazim Salah Abou Ismail, one of the six presidential hopefuls, told a news conference, where representatives of the group announced their demands.
He said a speedy presidential vote was important because the military council would still hold presidential powers, such as forming a government, even after the parliamentary vote.
The group, which includes former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, issued a statement on Wednesday that they wanted the election to be held on April 1 so the new president could take office on April 20.
The group demanded the parliamentary vote also be speeded up. Voting to the lower house starts on November 28, but voting for both houses will be staggered so it won’t be completed until March. Parliament then chooses the assembly that will draw up the constitution, further delaying a presidential vote.
Under the current timetable, parliamentary candidates must submit their nominations between October 12 and 18.
Egyptian media have speculated about several names that might have military backing, including Omar Suleiman, former intelligence chief and briefly Mubarak’s vice president.
Meanwhile, the Wafd party – a comparatively liberal, secular faction that is among the most influential of Egypt’s democratic movements – has scrapped an electoral alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest political force, because it wants to field more candidates than the tie-up would have allowed.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood’s political wing, and Wafd led an alliance of 34 parties from across the political spectrum that planned to coordinate lists of candidates for the first elections since Mubarak’s ouster.
“The party’s higher committee unanimously decided to contest elections in a separate list, and member parties of the alliance should choose to join either [the FJP or Wafd] lists,” said Essam Sheha, a member of Wafd’s higher committee.
Tensions have emerged between liberals and Islamists over the planned new constitution.
Islamic groups including the Brotherhood staged a mass protest on July 29 demanding the application of Shari’a law.
Fourteen Liberal and Leftist groups have formed a coalition called the Egyptian Bloc calling for a civil state in which the principles of Shari’a are nonetheless recognized as the “main source of legislation.”
Wafd’s leadership has faced internal opposition from party members and criticism from liberal groups over the alliance with the Brotherhood. Two members of its higher committee resigned from their posts.
Sheha denied that the decision to quit the electoral alliance was based on an ideological dispute.
“We withdrew from the electoral alliance because we had a lot of candidates and the available places in the list weren’t enough,” he said.
Cooperation with the Brotherhood would continue in other areas, he said, and a meeting of the alliance would take place on Saturday.