Free poll not on agenda

Egypt is pressing ahead with “very progressive’’ ideas for reform, but changing the way the president is elected is not one of them, at least for the time being, a spokesperson for the governing party said this week.

President Hosni Mubarak’s fourth six-year term ends in October next year and opposition groups are pressing for a free election and a choice of candidates.

Under the current system, Parliament puts forward one candidate for approval in a referendum.

As the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) annual conference opened in Cairo with the slogan “New thinking’‘, its policy spokesperson, Mohamed Kamal, said constitutional changes would not be discussed.

“It is not on the agenda of this conference, but there are no red lines, no taboos whatsoever covering any issues related to political reform, including the issue of amending the Constitution,’’ he said.

“It’s an issue of priorities ... we have other issues that we consider are of priority to the party ... It’s not a priority for the party.
It might be a priority for other institutions.’‘

Mubarak, who is 76 and has had two recent health scares, was absent from the opening session, but the growing influence of his 41-year-old son Gamal was apparent.

The party officials, who are to give media briefings, are all reformers associated with Gamal Mubarak and opposition groups complain that he is being groomed to succeed his father.

Although the NDP has not yet formulated a position on constitutional reform, it is planning “major structural changes’’ in laws relating to politics, Kamal told a news conference.

“We are presenting very progressive ideas concerning amending the basic laws that govern political participation in Egypt,’’ he said.

These include the electoral law and the law on political parties.

“It’s in the interests of the NDP, the majority party, to have a strong opposition,” he continued.

“We believe in checks and balances, and we believe that when you have a strong opposition it will activate you, it will energise you.’‘

Kamal said moves towards reform in Egypt had been inspired by the parliamentary elections four years ago when the NDP, which has governed the country for decades, failed to win an overall majority.

“The year 2000 was a setback for the party, and that’s what really motivated the reform movement,’’ he said.

“It has nothing to do with external pressure,” he added, alluding to opposition claims that one of the main purposes of the reform plans is to please the United States. — Â

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