Mubarak ignores succession, political reforms at NDP convention opening

While setting a blueprint for his party in the coming year, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday focused on economic reforms ignoring the most pressing questions of presidential succession and political reform.  

Mubarak listed a set of assignments to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) including furthering market-oriented economic changes in a way that would raise the average growth rate from seven to eight percent, promoting domestic and foreign investment, reducing unemployment, improving education and healthcare and empowering local governments.

“I am asking the government to develop an executive plan immediately to fulfill these assignments,” Mubarak said in his inaugural speech before the NDP seventh annual convention.

“I am telling you all, you should be working in the Egyptian street and among people,”  Mubarak, NDP chairman, told thousands of party members and leaders.

“You should tell those who have not reaped the fruit of development and growth yet, that this fruit is on its way to them. Spread hope and fight skeptics,” he added. 

While his speech revolved around promises to enhance people’s “quality of life” and stem poverty, the 82-year-old leader kept ambiguous the future of the presidency.

Mubarak, whose mandate is set to end next year amid rumors about his deteriorating health, remains reluctant to appoint a vice-president.

Earlier today, an NDP leader told the press that the party is not expected to announce its official nominee for the much-anticipated 2011 presidential poll at this convention. Minister for Legal Affairs Mofeed Shehab said that a special conference will be held later for this particular issue without specifying a date.

In the meantime, the president’s talk did not address any of the democratic reform demands constantly voiced by the opposition.

For almost a year, Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, has been promoting an elaborate reform plea that included the lifting of the 30-year-old state of emergency and introducing a package of constitutional amendments that would ensure the full judicial supervision of any elections, and a “genuine” multi-party presidential poll. 

Several opposition leaders endorsed the former diplomat’s demands and thousands of young activists rallied around him. The Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s largest opposition group, threw its full backing behind this plea.  Outraged by the regime’s indifference to his demands, Elbaradei called for a boycott of elections.

Mubarak’s speech comes on the heels of the party’s contested victory in the parliamentary elections held in November and early December. The NDP swept the opposition away by securing more than 90 percent of the seats in a poll widely dismissed as fraudulent.

“I am telling you honestly, we as the NDP, distance ourselves from [attempts] to monopolize party or national work and we are hoping to strengthen pluralism and honest competition,” Mubarak said.

Mubarak’s promises might fall short of convincing opposition candidates who had already gone to court to report vote rigging and eventually secured plenty of verdicts that challenged the final results.

Former opposition MPs who lost their seats announced the formation of a shadow parliament dismissing the official parliament as “void.”

Last week, Mubarak affirmed the legitimacy of the NDP-controlled People’s Assembly and mocked the shadow parliament’s initiators saying: “Let them have fun.”

The NDP’s convention is expected to last until Monday. 

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