IN OTHER WORDS: Imitation poll

Here are some simple ways to identify a real democratic election. The ruling party should not be allowed to shape the election arrangements and intimidate voters. The candidates should be able to compete on a reasonably level playing field. Impartial observers should be welcome and given time to deploy themselves at polling places nationwide. Not one of these defining features was evident in last week’s Egyptian presidential voting, whose main purpose was to usher President Hosni Mubarak into his fifth six-year term. Last Friday he was declared the winner, collecting 88.5 per cent of the votes. A few limited gestures were made in the general direction of democracy, thanks to repeated nudging from George Bush. For the first time in Egyptian history, the names of opposition presidential candidates actually appeared on the ballot. And for the first time in decades limited expressions of political criticism and protest were allowed.

But this election was a sham. The loosening of the reins may have gone further than first intended, but nobody is expecting political opening. The drama only marked the opening for Mubarak’s 41-year-old son to succeed him. Egyptians need real democracy with end to corruption and nepotism. Unfortunately, the next presidential elections are not due until 2011.