CAIRO: Only days following the first anniversary of the January 25 uprising, Shoura Council elections kicked off Sunday, but few voters turned up.
The long queues of voters eager to cast their ballots during the lower house (People’s Assembly) elections held over three rounds starting Nov. 28, were absent from sight during the Upper House elections.
The first round of elections covers 13 provinces: Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Red Sea, Daqahliya, Gharbeya, Fayoum, Menufiya, El-Wadi El-Gedid, Damietta, Qena and North and South Sinai. The run-offs will take place on Feb. 7.
Two-thirds of the council’s 270 members are elected: half are professionals and the rest are workers and farmers. Of these, 120 are elected through party lists while 60 are reserved for individual candidates.
A third of the seats will be appointed by the president who will be elected before the end of June.
In the first of two rounds, a total of 1,461 candidates are competing over 90 seats.
Judge Khaled Abou Bakr, supervising the elections in El-Qarbeyya school near Tahrir Square at around 2 pm, said that only 19 voters showed up. He added that he only saw one representative of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
"There’s still a LE 500 fine for not voting, the same as the fine imposed during the (PA) elections," Abou Bakr told Daily News Egypt.
"Whether the law will be implemented or not is up to the Supreme Electoral Commission [SEC]," he said.
In Nasr City, a district in Cairo’s first constituency, Judge Nasr Abdel Azim said, “Ballot papers, boxes, judges and monitors were all present on time, as they were anticipating huge crowds, but the turn out has been extremely low.”
“However, you have to bear in mind that today is a work day so people are expected to come after working hours. During the PA elections most people had the day off,” he said.
Hadia Nabih, 60, stood outside a Zamalek school off July 26 Street. She was boycotting the Shoura elections.
"The Shoura elections are only a front to support the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF]," she said.
The capital city, Cairo, is divided into two constituencies, where 12 seats are up for grabs, including four single-winner seats.
Lamis Abdel Alim, a candidate running with the Egyptian Bloc for a professionals seat in the second constituency in Cairo, said that political parties had to abide by the constitution and compete in the elections.
The Bloc is an electoral alliance including the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democrats and the leftist Al-Tagammu Parties.
However, The Free Egyptians, founded by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, withdrew from the Bloc and announced a boycott of the Shoura polls, saying that it was a waste of valuable time and money, when the country is in dire need of both.
Minimal violations were reported due to the low turn out.
The FJP spokesman in South Cairo Mohamed Hassan, complained that the name of the party’s candidate for the individual seat in the second Cairo constituency, Tarek Sayed, was misspelled.
"We’ve had supporters calling us all day saying that they couldn’t find our candidate’s name," Hassan said, adding that this might lead to a repeat.
There was no sign of campaign banners or leaflets, which flooded the streets during the PA elections.
Abou Bakr said that many people didn’t know the candidates, due to the lack of campaigning prior to the elections.
Many of the voters who did show up said they believed that the Shoura elections were just as important as the PA.
"The Shoura Council is responsible for examining laws and legislations before the PA issues them, which is very important," said Fathy Mohamed, 62. The Council’s role is consultative while the final decisions are left to the PA.
The PA and Shoura Council will both be responsible for electing the 100-member constituent assemble tasked with drafting the new constitution.
Voter Awad Razek, 81, said, "We’ve had an upper house and a lower house for decades, we can’t just change it,” criticizing calls to scrap the Shoura Council altogether.
Other voters were oblivious of the responsibilities of the Upper House, confusing it with the PA.
There have been mass protests calling for cancelling the Shoura elections and opening registration for presidential candidates immediately, in a bid to shorten the transitional period and the timetable proposed by the ruling military council.
El-Qarbeyya school is only minutes away from Tahrir Square where hundreds of protesters holding an open sit-in since Friday, have boycotted the Shoura elections, calling on SCAF to hand over power to a civilian authority.
"We don’t care about the elections now; we want SCAF to meet to our demands," said Ashraf El-Moghazy, 27.
It’s expected that the Islamists will also sweep the polls in the Shoura elections like the PA, where they won 72 percent of the seats.
The FJP is fielding 87 candidates out of 90 in the first round.
Low turnout was reported in all cities.
A total 63 polling stations in South Sinai saw a low turnout as voters in the coastal city of Sharm El-Shiekh in light of a Saturday shooting that left one French national killed and a German and several Egyptians injured.
Around 5,000 army and police forces were deployed to secure the polling stations.
In Alexandria, 14 party lists are contesting four seats in the elections while 136 candidates are contesting two individual seats in one constituency across the province.
Al-Shehab Center for Human Rights reported campaigning in front of the polling stations by the Salafi Al-Nour Party and the FJP, while some polling stations opened late.
Al-Wasat Party withdrew its lists in Alexandria "due to violations in the previous parliamentary elections that were never investigated and as many political forces called for cancelling Shoura elections," the party’s training coordinator, Moustafa Khalil, said in a statement.-Additional reporting by Safaa Abdoun in Cairo, Yehia Zakareya in South Sinai and Abdel-Rahman Youssef in Alexandria.