Identity will guide tactical voting in round two and three

Sunday, December 11th, 2011
Voting cards

TROY CARTER

A year ago the NDP won 91% of seats in parliamentary elections. Now, they're a finished chapter in Egypt's political history, remembered as the regime's patronage system. A new chapter was started recently, when millions of Egyptians voted in free and fair multi-party election. But celebrations have been stifled by the shadow of political Islam.

Last week the Muslim Brotherhood, ultra-orthodox salafist muslims, and Al Wasat Party (centrist Islamists) won a combined 70% of the vote in the first round of free and fair parliamentary elections held since 1975. That it was mostly secular, mostly liberal Egyptians who laid the groundwork for those elections is ironic, but could be less so if liberal voters in rounds two (December 14th) and three (January 3rd) consolidate.

To understand what is happening consider this. Voters are not being moved by any particular policy per se, rather by the identity with which each party closely associates, religion being the most dominant. To a large extent Muslims are voting for Muslims and Christians are voting for Christians. The upper class is voting for upper class and the poor for whoever will buy them a meal.

Secondly, remember the sage advice, all politics are local. Within the broad frame of religious identity parties are using established local notables to gather votes. Here again the parties are not arguing policy but allowing a continuation of existing patronage networks to boost their electoral success.

That a few Christians and women are being elected on the Muslim Brotherhood's party list does not counter this argument, as voters rarely know who who is on the list they are choosing. This may seem like politics 101 but remember the nation is in a sort of a chaotic class room where the teacher has a machine gun and assigns lots of after-class detention.

The realization of the identity politics matters, when predicting the outcome of the elections. Will liberal and leftists Egyptians, from centrist to radical, vote for Muslim Brotherhood candidates, the moderate Islamist, in a run-off, to deny the even more orthodox salafists the seat? They'll have to be looking at politics from a tactically to momentarily put aside their own identity .

So far it doesn't look like they will, turnout was very low in the first run-offs where liberals had the chance to do so. But that's not to say tactical voting won't occur ever.

Now that Islamists have dominated the first round, centrists, liberals, and leftists are wary of what might become of their personal freedoms. This could and should inform the next two list-voting rounds.

In the second and third round of voting these three groups, are likely to defect from their first choice and move to support the Egyptian Bloc, the latter being the most successful non-Islamist group which won 11% in the first round.

This sort of behavior isn't really new though, Egyptians have never had a problem choosing second-best solutions for real-world problems, like renting gold for a wedding dowry or hiring a tutor for their child to supplement the public school system's failings.

Voting against your enemy instead of for your preferred party is the practical solution to an election system that was dictated by the military, and we shouldn't condemn anyone who chooses to.

However, I don't expect Al Wafd and Al Wasat Party supporters, who won 12 and 4 seats respectively, to shift. Al Wafd represents an older generation's dream of national unity, rooted in the anti-colonial experience. And supporters of al Wasat party, a moderate splinter of the Muslim Brotherhood, don't feel threatened by the first-round results.

In another twist the Justice Party, a group of post-revolution youth reformers who advocated for national unity, has just managed to keep itself in the parliament. The nascent party's leader, Mustapha al Nagar, narrowly won a run-off election against a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in Cairo's 3rd Independent district on December 6. His run-off win prevents the party's demise. Justice Party received less than 1% in the party-list voting, most of it earned by the sterling reputation of its executives.

Now is not the time to be worried by the results of the November voting, only motivated. Despite the final makeup of the parliament, its' agenda will be set by the military council for the near future and will give non-Islamist forces time to consolidate and reorganize.

Yes, some Islamists, drunk with their earned victory, are making provocative statements about their dreams of an Islamic state. Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail's attempting to elevate his long-shot presidential campaign with superficial media-whoring is to be expected.

The struggle with the military council to form a parliament-backed government is already starting. The military is tripping up the Islamists in an attempt to shore up its political defense.

If Egyptians, secular or not, want to end the military's rule then they need to neutralize the rhetorical threat of religious extremism which the regime has always used to justify a dictatorial political system. This can only take place if the Islamists have a legitimate liberal partner in the parliament.

If you are supporting or planning to vote for one of the following parties/lists in round two or three, it behooves you to consider that the 453,125 voters that already supported them in round one will have no effect in forming two/thirds of the parliament.

Parties or coalition lists that did not earn any seats in the first round: Egyptian Arab Union, Egyptian Revolution, Conservatives, Modern Egypt, Democratic Peace, Al Ghad, Union Party, Revolution Guardians, Arab Nasserists, New Independent, Awareness, Social Peace, Arab Justice and Equality, Free Social Constitution, and Human Rights.