- Associated Press - Thursday, October 21, 2010

CAIRO (AP) — A top Egyptian ruling party official said 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak will seek a new term in next year’s elections despite widespread speculation that he might step down and allow his son to run in his place.

The official, Alieddin Hilal, was the latest of several senior figures from the National Democratic Party to suggest Mr. Mubarak intended to stay in the office he has held for nearly 30 years. However, the statements by party officials are not the final word, and Mr. Mubarak himself has maintained a public silence on his intentions.

“The next president is President Hosni Mubarak,” Mr. Hilal told U.S.-funded Alhurra television in an interview, according to excerpts released on Thursday. “The candidate of the party come next August or September will be President Hosni Mubarak,” added Mr. Hilal, who often acts as the ruling party’s spokesman.

Speculation over Mr. Mubarak’s future has intensified since he underwent surgery earlier this year in Germany to remove his gall bladder and a benign growth in the lining of his small intestine.

He has, however, sought to dispel that speculation with busy work schedules that state media have covered in detail. He recently suggested he would stay in office as long as he is alive.

Mr. Mubarak is widely thought to be grooming his 46-year-old son Gamal to eventually succeed him. He has also stayed silent on the future of Gamal, who over the past decade has risen through the ranks of the ruling party to become one of its leaders.

Mr. Mubarak never appointed a vice president, further complicating the question of who will succeed him. He was Anwar Sadat’s vice president when the late president was gunned down by Muslim militants during a military parade in Cairo in 1981. He then became president and has held the office ever since.

Mr. Mubarak had ruled Egypt unchallenged until 2005 when multiple candidates were allowed to run for president. However, requirements severely limit who can run in next year’s vote, making a landslide win for the ruling party candidate a virtually foregone conclusion.

Egypt’s leading democracy advocate, Mohamed ElBaradei, says he will only run for president if restrictions on who can run are relaxed. He also has called on politicians and voters to boycott next month’s parliamentary elections because the conditions for a free vote have deteriorated since 2005.

Mr. ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says a boycott would deny the regime legitimacy. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, has decided to contest the election.

Voting in Egypt is routinely marred by fraud, but the government has consistently rejected calls for international supervision, arguing that it infringe on its sovereignty.

Authorities have also recently cracked down on independent media outlets and arrested scores of Brotherhood activists, moves widely seen to be designed to silence dissent ahead of the Nov. 28 parliamentary vote.

Egypt is a close, strategic U.S. ally. It is beset by a host of seemingly intractable problems from substantial poverty, high unemployment and a rapidly growing population to vast social disparities. Those deep social problems make a smooth and peaceful transfer of power if Mr. Mubarak steps down or passes away all the more crucial.

Mr. Hilal appeared to have no concerns about the transfer of power.

“Any transfer of power will be peaceful and according to the constitution and within the framework of political and constitutional institutions,” he told Alhurra.

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