A KEY opposition leader in Egypt has warned that fresh parliamentary elections in the country may inflame tensions unless there are serious political talks first.
President Mohammed Morsi announced late on Thursday night that a staggered, four-stage voting process will begin on 27 April and end in June. The newly-elected parliament would convene on 6 July, the decree said.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads the main opposition National Salvation Front, said yesterday that Mr Morsi’s “decision to go for parliamentary elections amidst severe societal polarisation and eroding state authority is a recipe for disaster.”
Egypt has been mired in political turmoil for the past two years. The current phase began when Mr Morsi took over as president in June last year.
The opposition accuses Mr Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of monopolising power and going back on campaign promises to set up an inclusive government and introduce far-reaching reforms.
Mr Morsi’s supporters say the new government cannot immediately fix years of neglect and poor administration from ousted Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule, and say they have the legitimacy of the ballot box in their favour.
Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, which emerged as the most powerful political faction since Egypt’s uprising two years ago, has been setting the stage for elections through outreach programmes, including helping poor families receive subsidised bread.
The mostly secular and liberal opposition has trailed significantly at the polls, but Mr Morsi’s popularity has waned recently.
Among the most pressing issue for Egypt is its economy, which has been badly hit by the nation’s turmoil with foreign currency reserves falling below a critical level to less than $14 billion (£9.2bn).
“The elections will be positive because it will be the final institution to fall into place after the presidency and the constitution,” Mr Morsi said. “The coming parliament will be elected by the people and will help build confidence in Egypt again.”
Mr ElBaradei’s group, though, has warned it would boycott the vote unless there are talks with the president aimed at forming a national unity government with more participation by the various political groups.
A national dialogue by Mr Morsi failed so far failed to bridge differences or build confidence. The opposition has also said it will boycott if election laws written by the Islamist-led interim parliament favour the Brotherhood’s party.
The founder of the opposition 6 April movement said if the election law is not agreed upon, it will not support participation in elections.
“The election laws have not been agreed upon and this is an essential problem,” Ahmed Maher said. “Until now, the Brotherhood party is dealing in the Shura Council as if there is no opposition and they are forcing these laws on the rest,” he said, referring to Egypt’s interim parliament.
The most recent show of unrest came in the city of Port Said, where a general strike entered its sixth day yesterday. Factory workers and labourers held street rallies that brought the coastal city on the northern tip of the Suez Canal to a halt, though shipping in the waterway has not been affected.
Thousands took the streets, demanding Mr Morsi’s resignation and denouncing his call for April elections.
Meanwhile, rights groups have complained of widespread police abuse, saying in a joint statement Wednesday that brutality is on the rise in detention centres and at demonstrations.
The groups said they hold Mr Morsi responsible for failing to stop such practices.