PARTIES loyal to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dominated in just concluded parliamentary elections in Egypt, where the majority of seats were won by pro-Sisi parties, including For Love of Egypt party and the Free Egyptians party.
Turnout was less than 25%, a reflection of election fatigue in the country – Egyptians have headed to the polls at least seven times since 2011.
But there’s little meaningful choice between candidates. Opposition parties, including the leftist and secular ones, have been harassed and marginalised, while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – the party of former president Mohamed Morsi, whom Sisi ousted in a coup in 2011 – has been banned outright.
Most parties elected to the parliament are funded by regime-linked businessmen and many of the candidates had been vetted by the country’s feared security apparatus.
It’s a sign of an authoritarian regime consolidating in North Africa’s most populous country, but it seems stability is what Egyptians prize the most right now, after nearly five years of turmoil.
Foreign reserves shrunk
The country’s foreign reserves have shrunk to the lowest level since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, and the October downing of a Russian plane in the Sinai desert dealt a blow to the tourism industry, which accounts for 13% of the country’s GDP.
Sisi came in on a platform of economic revival, and so far has promised much – massive housing projects, a brand new capital city in the desert, and special economic zones along the Suez to make Egypt competitive with Dubai.
But he has delivered little, except the expansion of the Suez Canal. Even so, its benefits have been modest: transit volumes through the canal have shrunk as well, as the global economy cools in recent months.
Egypt is more dependent than ever on assistance from the oil-producing Gulf countries, and even this is in jeopardy as low oil prices thins public revenues for oil exporters everywhere.
But even in these troubled times, the parliament isn’t expected to be reformist by any means.
In fact, Sisi’s strongest supporters in parliament have argued that the constitution gives too much power to parliament, and needs to be amended to strengthen the president – a possibly unprecedented instance of elected parliamentarians demanding a lesser role in governing.
But rubber-stamp parliaments aren’t anything new in Africa, where legislative houses are seen as less of a voice for the people than as patronage machines, in a continent where MPs end up acting as social security for the community – they are expected to pay school fees for children, settle hospital bills and contribute to fundraisers.
Buying the peace
In fact, large legislative assemblies – relative to a country’s total population – tend to be a feature of post-conflict states, where a seat in parliament is part of the political settlement and a way of “buying” the peace.
When ranked according to the ratio of legislators (both houses of parliament) to the population, post-conflict countries, including Sudan, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Liberia, Libya, South Sudan and Somalia tend to have larger than average legislative assemblies. The African average is one legislator for 74,000 people, data from the Inter-Parlimentary Union (IPU) shows.
The largest legislator to population ratios are to be found, as expected, in the largest African countries, but also in some unlikely ones.
Nigeria has the biggest ratio of one legislator for 470,000 people, followed by Burkina Faso at 188,000 people. It suggests that the Burkinabe parliament is relatively small for its 16 million strong population.
Third and fourth placed are Niger (157,000) and Madagascar (151,000), and Egypt comes in fifth place with 596 legislators for a population of 82 million, a ratio of 1: 137,000.
The smallest ratios, as expected, tend to be in the smallest countries – Seychelles, at the bottom of the list, has one legislator for just 2,730 people. Sao Tome and Principe is second with a ratio of 1: 3,510, while Equatorial Guinea comes in third at 1: 4,300.
Still Equatorial Guinea, with a population of 757,000, has a legislative assembly five times bigger than the Comoros that has a similar population of 735,000.
The difference between the two countries is oil, suggesting the Equatorial Guinea uses the parliament as a way to dole out the patronage benefits of oil revenues.