CAIRO | Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday launched his ruling party’s campaign for parliamentary elections, acknowledging that the fruits of economic reforms have not reached all Egyptians and pledging a free vote.
In a speech to the party’s new candidates for the Nov. 28 election, Mr. Mubarak said the platform would be to help those who had not “reaped the fruits and benefits of reform, development and growth.”
Since its formation in 1978, the National Democratic Party has dominated Egyptian politics through elections that routinely have been marred by fraud and low turnout.
The Egyptian leader spoke a day after a coalition of 16 local rights groups said it expects the vote to be rigged as authorities continue to crack down on opposition activists and place restrictions on the media.
Egypt’s High Election Commission says 5,720 candidates have registered to run in the upcoming election. The legislature’s 508 seats include 64 allocated for women. The NDP will be running 839 candidates, forcing its party to compete against itself in many constituencies.
Mr. Mubarak’s health has been the subject of speculation after he had surgery this year, but at the event, he looked anything but ailing, standing up to shake hands and chat with dozens of senior party members before walking briskly into a conference hall and delivering a 20-minute address, also while standing.
After nearly 30 years in office, Mr. Mubarak is already Egypt’s longest-serving ruler since the 19th century and would be almost 90 if he serves another full term. He has yet to publicly spell out his plans, but top officials from his party say the former air force chief will run in 2011.
“There are those poor and simple people who endure the hardships of life, those from classes with limited income who suffer the rising prices and cost of living and those who worry about the future of their families,” he said. “We contest these elections with our eyes on them.”
Egypt has made giant development leaps under Mr. Mubarak, modernizing its infrastructure, registering economic growth of up to 7 percent in recent years and becoming a major regional magnet for investment.
But the reforms have largely failed to trickle down to the neediest among Egypt’s 80 million people, of whom around 40 percent live on or near the poverty line of $2 a day, according to the U.N.
Street protests have escalated this year over a slew of issues, ranging from food prices to demands for a new minimum wage. The protests reflect rising impatience with promises of reform that critics say have done little but widen the gap between the rich and poor.
Mr. Mubarak appeared to address some of these concerns Wednesday, although he also has cited the creation of 4 million jobs and a sharp increase in non-oil exports since the last election in 2005.
He said his party’s program for the next five years would focus on raising the income of poor and middle-class Egyptians, creating more jobs and fighting graft — many of the same promises made for the 2005 election campaign.
The party is focusing on “the simple, the disenfranchised, the poor, those who live in shantytowns and villages deemed to be the most needy,” he said.
“Like other nations and peoples, we are faced with a multitude of difficulties and challenges, and we still have a great deal of hard work ahead of us to realize our hopes and expectations,” he added.