On Wednesday 23 May, Egypt will hold the first round of its first post-Mubarak presidential election. So far, the results are far from certain with up to 33% of the electorate undecided on which candidate to support.
The disqualification of 10 candidates including three leading non-centrist politicians has narrowed the field to 13. This may have in the medium and long term reduced a potential source of serious national polarisation – however, this is not to deny that political polarization persists.
The leading remaining candidates are:
The current front-runner in the presidential election, Moussa served as Egypt’s Foreign Minister for 10 years, following which he was appointed Arab League secretary-general.
Abdel Moneim Abdoul Fotouh: The 60-year-old physician, former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and moderate Islamist, is also amongst the favourites to win the presidential race.
Ahmed Shafik: The former air force commander and member of the old guard ranks amongst the top three presidential candidates according to contemporary polls. Ahmed Shafik was Egypt’s last prime minister under former President Hosni Mubarak.
Mohamed Mursi: The Muslim Brotherhood’s official candidate does not currently rank amongst the top contenders for the presidency but should not be written off. A former professor, Mursi is the elected chair of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
At present it is almost impossible to say which candidate will win, not only because so many voters are undecided, but also because of the risk of electoral fraud. In addition, many smaller political parties and individuals have not yet decisively thrown their weight behind any of the remaining candidates. They are likely to do so in the likely event that Egypt holds a run-off vote.
It is also difficult to predict the likely political outcome of the elections in the longer-term, not least because the president’s powers have not yet been defined by the constitution – this will follow the election. Similarly, the president’s ultimate policies will be shaped by his ability to work both with SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and with Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament.
In this context, although not regarded as a favourite in the presidential race, the election of the Freedom and Justice Party’s back-up candidate – the stanchly conservative Mohamed Mursi – would likely provoke greater friction with SCAF and could trigger a potentially serious political crisis. The election of a leading moderate candidate with a broad support base such as Aboul Fotouh or El-Awwa could by contrast provide the conditions for greater political stability and normalisation.
In addition, there is also the possibility that the election results will be disputed. Contested election results could provoke protracted turbulence and open-ended unrest. This would also cause further delays to the drafting of a new constitution which is intended, among other things, to clearly define the powers of the president and other institutions.
While such uncertainty over the election’s outcome seems unlikely to encourage investors to speedily return to Egypt - once seen as an up and coming ‘Next 11′ investment destination - what is more certain is that few of the candidates will be able to do anything to quickly repair the Egyptian economy, currently weighed down by inflation, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and growing government deficits.
Local economists say that the country would require at least US$11bn over the next 12 months to deal with the current account crisis and avert a potential devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
For more information on Maplecroft’s Election Monitors, please see here: http://maplecroft.com/portfolio/election_monitor/