Egypt's presidential hopefuls want early vote

CAIRO Wed Oct 5, 2011 3:58pm EDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) is greeted by Egyptian Major General Rouini as he arrives in Cairo October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Win McNamee/Pool

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) is greeted by Egyptian Major General Rouini as he arrives in Cairo October 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Win McNamee/Pool

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CAIRO (Reuters) - A group of six presidential hopefuls said on Wednesday they wanted Egypt's first free election to be held in April, far earlier than the timetable envisaged by the ruling military council.

Egypt's generals have not set a date but, under a timetable that involves a parliamentary vote followed by drawing up a new constitution, analysts said the presidential race may not happen until the end of 2012 or early 2013.

Many Egyptians suspect that the military council, which took control after Hosni Mubarak was driven from office, may want to hold on to power from behind the scenes even after handing over day-to-day affairs to the government.

The military denies any such intentions. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Wednesday also dismissed talk that the military might propose a candidate for the presidency.

"Don't let this drag on, so that we don't lose all hope," Hazim Salah Abou Ismail, one of the six hopefuls, told a news conference, where representatives of the group announced their demands.

He said a swift presidential vote was important because the military council would still hold presidential powers, such as forming a government, even after the parliamentary vote.

The group, which include former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, said they wanted the election to be held on April 1 so the new president could take office on April 20.

The group demanded the parliamentary vote also be speeded up. Voting to the lower house starts on November 28, but voting for both houses will be staggered so it won't be completed until March. Parliament then chooses the assembly that will draw up the constitution, further delaying a presidential vote.

Under the current timetable, parliamentary candidates must submit their nominations between October 12 and 18.

Salim al-Awa, another of the hopefuls, said the group wanted the parliamentary vote wrapped by the end of January, so nominations for the presidency could start on February 5.

He also said Moussa expressed reservations about setting demands for the pace of the parliamentary vote, although he still backed the group's statement. Another hopeful, however, said a parliamentary vote could be speeded up even more.

RUMOURS

The official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that Tantawi "denied the existence of a candidate for the military establishment in the future presidential election." He was responding to speculation about such a plan.

Responding to a question about a possible military nominee, MENA quoted Tantawi as saying: "We should not waste time discussing rumors."

Egyptian media have speculated about several names that might have military backing, including Omar Suleiman, former intelligence chief and briefly Mubarak's vice president.

Tantawi called on Egyptians to vote in the upcoming elections, adding the parliamentary vote had been delayed at the request of political forces to give them more time to organize, according to MENA.

Dozens of new parties have been set up after politics opened up with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, who kept a tight grip on politics. A senior figure in Mubarak's ruling party controlled the committee that approved new parties.

Egypt's first and only multi-candidate presidential election was held in 2005. Mubarak, to no one's surprise, won a crushing victory in a vote marred by abuses. Election rules made it all but impossible for a serious challenge to Mubarak.

The military council has already changed its initial election law for the parliamentary poll after pressure from political groups who threatened to boycott the vote.

One change was to expand from a half to two thirds the numbers of seats elected according to party lists, reducing the seats offered to individuals.

Mubarak's former allies, many of them local notables who still enjoy clout in their areas, have been spurned by most parties, leaving them with few options to get re-elected to parliament apart from running as independents.

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