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Extension of voting in presidential elections stirs controversy

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Hamdeen Sabahy continues in presidential race despite calls for his withdrawal

Egyptian soldiers guard an empty polling station in Cairo on May 28, 2014. Egypt's presidential election entered into a third day after polling was extended amid reports of low turnout despite calls by frontrunner and ex-army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,  for a massive mandate after he ousted the elected leader.            (AFP PHOTO/ MARWAN NAAMANI)

Egyptian soldiers guard an empty polling station in Cairo on May 28, 2014. Egypt’s presidential election entered into a third day after polling was extended amid reports of low turnout despite calls by frontrunner and ex-army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for a massive mandate after he ousted the elected leader.
(AFP PHOTO/ MARWAN NAAMANI)

The Presidential Elections Commission’s (PEC) late Tuesday decision to extend voting by an extra day has stirred controversy among an array of political groups.

The PEC premised its decision on its concern for “ voters’ interest and to give them a chance to cast their votes, especially with the heat wave that hit the country”, according to its  statement. The commission added that its decision came after demands from different political parties and voter segments.

Both presidential candidates, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahy, have officially objected to the PEC decision. Yet the commission overruled the objection and declared that the decision is within its jurisdiction, according to the Presidential Elections Law, and it would not harm any of the candidates. It is meant to “facilitate the voting process”, the PEC noted.

Mohamed Abu Shuqa, Al-Sisi’s legal adviser, said in a televised interview on Tuesday night that the decision would cost the state large sums of money and would constitute an overload for the security forces and the judges who are observing the elections. He added that both candidates have officially objected the decision but the “PEC applied it regardless”.

The National Council for Human Rights described the PEC’s “last minute” decision as against the procedural guarantees that were set by the commission. Article 43 requires that the voter’s phosphorous ink, which lasts 48 hours, remain visible until the end of the electoral process. Extending the voting for a day would mean that the remnants of the ink will have disappeared from those who voted on the first day.

Elections’ watchdog organisation Shayfeencom criticised the decision, accusing it of “causing a state of severe disturbance for voters” referring to the closing of the polling stations at 9pm instead of 10pm on Tuesday. The organisation added that the “last minute’ extension “only implies a political compromise rather than a decision for the sake of voters”.

Misr Al-Qawia spokesman Ahmed Imam criticised the PEC’s decision, describing what he called the state’s attempts to “rally Egyptians” and “intimidate them to participate in the elections” as a proof of the “absurdity” of the electoral scene.

The Presidential Elections Law states that those who fail to cast a vote without an excuse will be fined, a warning that has been circulated through both state and private owned media.

Following the PEC’s decision, the Revolutionary Socialists, which endorsed Sabahy and the campaign against former defence minister Al-Sisi titled “Against You”, called on the Nasserist presidential candidate to withdraw from the presidential race.

The Revolutionary Socialists claimed in a statement Wednesday that the elections have been forged by the military, pointing to the “wary” voter turnout, and the assault and arrests of Sabahy’s campaign members.

The group called for a unified front of both Sabahy voters and the revolutionary factions that boycotted to continue “the revolutionary struggle”. According to the statement, Sabahy’s continuation in the presidential race would only benefit the supporters of the “counter revolution”, stressing that his withdrawal is a must in order not to waste the youth’s efforts during the past weeks.

Al-Dostour Party, which was the first to announce its public endorsement for Sabahy, released a statement criticising the commission’s decision adding that it would add “suspicions” to the electoral process. The liberal party then authorised Sabahy to take “what measures that he sees fit” to secure his voters’ rights and the integrity of the elections.

Sabahy’s campaign released a statement assuring that the candidate will continue the presidential race, despite the calls for his withdrawal that the campaign says it “respects and has thoroughly studied”.

The campaign fears that if Sabahy withdraws, this decision would “waste the efforts of the youth who have worked for the campaign along with the right of millions of Egyptians who voted for Sabahy” and would give “terrorist and extremist powers a chance to use this decision for their interests.”

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AbdelHalim H. AbdAllah

Follow AbdelHalim on twitter: @Abdukhalim1


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