The first parliamentary elections in Egypt since the 25 January Revolution took place last week. The first stage of the elections covered nine governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, the Red Sea, Luxor, Fayoum, Damietta, Port Said and Kafr al-Sheikh.
2 December 2011
The first parliamentary elections in Egypt since the 25 January Revolution took place last week. The first stage of the elections covered nine governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, the Red Sea, Luxor, Fayoum, Damietta, Port Said and Kafr al-Sheikh. The balloting lasted for two consecutive days from 8:00am till 7:00pm. The large voter turnout led the Higher Committee of the Election Commission (HCEC) to extend the voting hours on the first day till 9:00pm.
Preliminary results showed that Islamists are in advance in most constituencies. Heliopolis, Cairo, however, scored a liberal win with the independent politician Amr Hamzawi.
High voter turnout
In the first round, which involved 17.5 million registered voters, the turnout was estimated by observers to be anywhere between 50 and 70 per cent. Voters cast their ballots at 3,294 electoral centres divided between 18,536 polling stations. Out of a total of 3,809 candidates who were contesting 168 parliamentary seats, 2357 independent candidates contested 56 seats, and 1,452 party candidates, representing 36 parties and coalitions, contested 112 seats.
The political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), al-Hurriya wal-Adala (Freedom and Justice) Party, has the first round’s highest number of candidates in both systems, the independent and the party lists.
Some 355,500 Egyptians abroad cast their ballot in 163 States. Egyptians living in Saudi Arabia represented 40 per cent of all those who voted from abroad, thus recording the highest participation with 142,700 voters casting their ballot. Egyptians living in the Gulf represent 77 per cent of all registered Egyptians living abroad in 163 States the world over.
Organisation and security
The balloting witnessed an unexpectedly high turnout given the current chaos and security lapse, and the week-long violent clashes between the Police and the Tahrir demonstrators, which left more than 40 dead and scores injured. The high women participation surpassed all expectations, especially considering that there have been fears that crime and thuggery were expected to mar the elections.
The Armed Forces mobilised massive numbers of their personnel to secure the polling stations. In many stations their numbers far exceeded those of the police. Balloters unanimously praised the Armed Forces for their cooperation and respectability.
In the majority of cases, the election process was mostly organised; voters queued to cast their ballots and got out after dipping their finger in the phosphoric ink, in order to guarantee that no-one would vote more than once. Polling areas were segregated by gender. Lines at both men’s and women’s stations snaked around buildings for hours.
Some balloting stations were overcrowded and voters got tense, especially in cases where the balloting papers were not available and were sent too late. In some stations, they arrived as late as 6.00pm.
Dead on the list
The Egyptian Council for Human Rights reported Tuesday that it had received 964 complaints of voting irregularities. A majority of the grievances regarded polls opening late and illegal campaigning outside voting stations, most notably by the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi Nour Party.
In some Cairo polling stations, the judges supervising the stations arrived as late as 11.00am, which left voters standing for some hours till the balloting could begin. This happened in a polling station in the Cairo suburb of Maadi in which some 6,930 voters were registered, and in another Cairo suburb, Ain Shams, with 11,800 registered voters.
Another common violation was that polling lists were not stamped. Some of the balloters complained of the MB’s al-Hurriya wal-Adala campaigning in front of the polling stations, which of course violate the polling regulations.
The names of deceased people appeared on voters’ lists, a gross violation which used to be rampant in past elections, and which was exploited to rig the results. Two of our colleagues at Watani found the IDs of deceased family members on the HCEC website and found them registered in voters’ lists. In one case in Fayoum, a young woman who asked to remain anonymous went in carrying her father’s death certificate to ask for his name to be removed from the voter list, she was given a severe lecture by the judge and told not to make trouble.
Bribes, but little violence
In several polling stations candidates went in and campaigned as voters cast their ballots. Prominent MB member and al-Hurriya wal-Adala candidate Sobhy Saleh was reported to have done so in a woman’s balloting station in Alexandria. The women, who knew this was a violation, assisted the security personnel to take him out.
Electoral bribes abounded. In Ain al-Sira, this reporter witnessed coupons for free goods being handed out to the voters who cast their ballots in favour of al-Hurriya wal-Adala. In Assiut, the bribe went up to a kilogrmme of meat and EGP50.
Acts of thuggery in this year’s elections were limited. A candidate in Assiut who had not been allowed to run, cut off the road. This complaint was reported, and contained by the Armed Forces. In the village of Badari, also in Assiut, rival clans clashed and shot at one another, but no deaths were reported. State TV reported that 25 people were injured in election-related violence.
The only death reported during the elections was not because of violence, but because of overcrowding.
The Salafis and MB, as well as the Wafd Party, accused the Coptic Church of supporting the al-Kutla al-Misriya (The Egyptian Mass) liberal coalition, since some churches had issued lists of recommended candidates for the benefit of Coptic voters. This had been done in certain parishes, through laymen citizenship committees, where Coptic voters had specifically asked to collaborate instead of breaking up the vote. Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth, denied the accusations insisting that: “the Church does not do politics; it only works to raise its congregation’s political awareness, encouraging them to participate in the elections. The Church does not obligate anyone to do whatever he or she does not want to do.
“The Church does not allow any party or candidate to use its pulpit for political purposes,” Anba Moussa said. Pope Shenouda III had strongly encouraged Copts to vote, saying it was a national duty, and had nothing to do with whether the candidate was Christian or Muslim. “Vote for whoever you believe would serve the country best, regardless of his or her religion.”