>Licking electoral wounds, opposition proposes formation of shadow parliament

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Photo by: Ahmed Zaki

By: Ahmed Zaki Osman 
Egypt’s opposition has called for the formation of a “parallel” or “shadow” parliament to operate alongside the recently-elected People’s Assembly, although the proposed body’s exact role and function remain vague.

Earlier this month, a group of opposition parties proposed the formation of a parallel parliament to “represent the true will” of the Egyptian people. The move aims to challenge the legitimacy of Egypt’s incoming parliament, dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak.

In recently concluded parliamentary elections, opposition parties failed to secure more than 3 percent of the assembly. According to official figures, the NDP won over 480 of parliament’s 508 elected seats.

Claiming the election was fraudulent, the liberal opposition Wafd Party and the formally-banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood (MB) both boycotted a second round of voting on 5 December.

Representatives of the MB, the country’s largest and best organized opposition movement, had accounted for almost one fifth of the seats in the outgoing assembly. This time around, however, the group failed to win a single seat.

Rights organizations, for their part, say the polls were riddled with electoral violations, including vote rigging and vote buying.  

On Monday, several opposition leaders publicly called for the formation of a parallel parliament, although they appeared to disagree on the strategies and objectives to be adopted by the alternate assembly.

According to Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal opposition Ghad Party, the shadow parliament’s objective is to provide a mechanism by which NDP officials can be questioned regarding issues of misconduct and poor administration.

George Ishak, member of the National Association for Change (NAC) reform movement, stressed that there was general agreement among most opposition figures on the need to establish the parallel assembly.

“We have agreed that Egypt’s parliament should be a parliament for the people,” Ishak said in a recent panel discussion organized by the radical leftist group Al-Tagdeed al-Eshteraky (Socialist Renewal). “All national political forces should be represented in such an assembly.”

“But we haven’t yet agreed on the nature and structure of the parliament,” he added.

The NAC has already drawn up a committee to discuss the aims and structure of the proposed parliament, and is expected to meet this week with leaders of various opposition groups for joint consultations.

In the aftermath of the parliamentary polls, former independent and opposition MPs demonstrated outside Egypt’s State Council Court in Cairo. Demonstrators reiterated calls to establish a “popular parliament” to reflect the popular will.

Abdel Fatah Rizq, an MB parliamentary candidate who lost in the recent polls, said the brotherhood supported the notion of a shadow parliament.

Abdel-Halim Qandil, spokesman for the Kefaya pro-democracy movement, argued that the formation of a parallel parliament would serve to force a differentiation between genuine opposition and “fake”–i.e., NDP-controlled–opposition.

“The ruling regime not only installs its supporters in parliament but also members of the so-called opposition,” Qandil said. “The proposed shadow parliament would create a distinction between real opposition MPs and the fake ones by creating a place for the real opposition.”

So far, more than 110 former MPs who lost in the last election have declared their intention to participate in the proposed shadow parliament in order to monitor government performance and challenge the legitimacy of the incoming NDP-dominated assembly.

The idea of establishing a “parallel” parliament is not new. Prominent opposition personalities also floated the idea in 2007 after parliament passed constitutional amendments making it more difficult for the opposition to nominate presidential candidates.

Although Egyptian opposition groups have frequently attempted to forge a unified platform, such efforts have traditionally run aground on ideological and personal differences.

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