Egypt may hold presidential vote first

December 31, 2013 - 5:40:26 am

An Egyptian police officer detains a female student of Al Azhar University during a protest at the university campus in Cairo yesterday. 

CAIRO: Egypt’s government is likely to call a presidential election before parliamentary polls, officials said yesterday, rearranging the political timetable in a way that could see army chief General Abdel Fattah 

Al Sisi elected head of state by April.

Parliamentary elections were supposed to happen first under the roadmap unveiled after the army deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July after mass protests against his rule.

But critics have campaigned for a change, saying the country needs an elected leader to direct government at a time of economic and political crisis and to forge a political alliance before a potentially divisive parliamentary election.

Opponents say it risks creating a president with unchecked power. Were that Sisi, who is widely tipped to win the vote, it would restore the army’s sway over a post controlled by military men until Mursi was propelled to office last year by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi’s Islamist opponents view him as the mastermind of a military coup and a crackdown that has killed hundred of Mursi’s supporters and jailed thousands more. The Brotherhood, which says it is committed to peaceful protest, was officially designated a terrorist group last week.

In further unrest, one person was killed and five others were wounded yesterday in the Mediterranean town of Damietta in clashes between opponents and supporters of Mursi. Such incidents have taken place almost daily since Mursi was removed.

In Cairo, a court sentenced 139 Brotherhood members to two years in jail and a fine of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($720) each for engaging in violent actions, protesting and rioting.

A draft constitution concluded on December 1 opened the way for a change in the order of the elections by leaving open the question of which should come first.

Secular-leaning politicians who want the presidential election before the parliamentary polls lobbied interim head of state Adly Mansour during four recent meetings, according to officials familiar with what was discussed.

“The forces that attended the four meetings agreed, with a large percentage, to have the presidential elections first and that means that most likely the presidential elections will be first,” said one of the officials. 

An army official added: “Presidential elections are most likely to be held first, as it seems to be the demand of most parties so far.” Holding the presidential election first would “accelerate the process of bringing Sisi as head of state”, said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

“The people who are pushing for a change are doing so because they would like to have him as head of state.” Sisi, 59, has yet to announce his candidacy. An army official familiar with his thinking said last week he was still undecided as he weighs up the manifold problems facing a country in deep economic crisis.

But he may have no choice. His supporters see Sisi as the only man able to restore stability after three years of turmoil. REUTERS

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