x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ballot boycott hurts Egypt's opposition

By planning to boycott still more Egyptian elections, Mohammed ElBaradei helps neither himself, nor the opposition, nor Egypt.

Mohammed ElBaradei has rarely missed a chance to condemn Egypt's leaders since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. And so it was at the weekend when the outspoken opposition leader wasted no time criticising President Mohammed Morsi for his latest move.

Hours after the president approved new dates for the next round of parliamentary elections, Mr ElBaradei seemed to pull his hat from the ring. "Called for parliamentary election boycott in 2010 to expose sham democracy," Mr ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter account. "Today I repeat my call. [I] will not be part of an act of deception."

Egyptians have plenty of reason to question Egypt's "democratic" transition. Mr Morsi's leadership has been haphazard and, at times, seemingly authoritarian, favouring a Muslim Brotherhood agenda at the expense of national interests. His presidential decree last year, granting his office sweeping powers and immunity from judicial oversight, was widely condemned as a power grab.

Yet Mr ElBaradei is wrong to call for a boycott of a parliamentary vote based on a five-day change in the dates, to April 22-23 from April 27-28. Elections during the Mubarak era were a clear case of sham democracy. Mr Morsi's move, on the other hand, may actually prove to be an exercise in inclusivity. The new schedule will mean Christian voters do not have to head to the polls during a holy week that includes Palm Sunday (April 28) and Easter (May 5).

Mr Morsi has been disappointing on many fronts, but challenging his stranglehold on power in the political arena, on the campaign trail and at the ballot box - rather than in the streets - is how Egypt will mature as a democracy. Boycotting elections, which so far seem to have been procedurally free and fair, only weakens Mr ElBaradei's credibility as a viable leader who can withstand adversity.

Egypt needs a parliament with strong opposition voices; now could be the opportunity to build one. Egyptians are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the governing party, and as unemployment increases amid crippling inflation, opposition leaders offering a solution - or at least an alternative - could find votes in unlikely places.

The conventional wisdom is that the Muslim Brotherhood will be dominant at the polls, and if its candidates win, they deserve to lead despite their flaws. Perhap Mr ElBaradei lacks confidence in his support. But if leaders like him have a new vision for Egypt, now is the time to offer it.