A second electoral silence was effective Sunday noon ahead of a second round of elections between candidates who obtained the highest number of votes in their constituencies, running for parliamentary individual seats.
Runoff elections will take place Monday and Tuesday for Egyptians living abroad, and on Tuesday and Wednesday within the governorates of Giza, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Luxor, Aswan, Minya, Sohag, Qena, Assiut, New Valley, Red Sea, Alexandria, Beheira and Matruh.
Since the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) announced the results of the first round of the first electoral phase in 14 governorates, two trending topics were discussed by candidates in the local media: speculations on turnout in runoff elections and candidates’ distrust in results and claims of “non-transparency”.
According to Ahmed Kasseb, legal advisor and deputy secretary-general of ‘Future of a Nation Party’, Iman Nasef, the party’s candidate in Al-Qanater constituency in Giza governorate appealed the results of the SEC on grounds of “forgery”.
“Our candidate objected to not being included in the second round despite that vote counts showed she was a winner and we have accused the polling station of forging results,” Kasseb told Daily News Egypt Saturday.
Similarly, Al-Nour Party members made media statements in which they questioned the electoral process and claimed violations against party members during the elections.
After a long meeting of the party’s higher committee Thursday discussing potential withdrawal from the elections, party president Younis Makhioun said in a press statement Thursday:
“A systematic media campaign against the party was undertaken by state-owned and private media, even during electoral silence. Political money and bribes were used in an unprecedented manner without no measures taken by official, in addition to security ambush of Al-Nour’s candidates, leaving other candidates’ violations unpunished, which reminds us of how elections were run before the January 2011 revolution.”
The Alexandria Administrative Court ordered the annulment of the SEC’s results in one constituency and the suspension of runoff elections in the city of Damanhour in the Beheira governorate.
This comes due to a candidate named Mabrouk Mohamed, whose candidacy was accepted by the SEC, despite a final verdict by a criminal court against him, according to state-run media MENA on Saturday.
As such, the court ordered the SEC to schedule new dates for elections in the constituency of Damanhour, after excluding Mabrouk from the list of candidates, who according to copies of court verdict details was given a final sentence last September, blaming the SEC’s failure to verify the candidate’s criminal record.
Meanwhile, the SEC defended its position by stating Sunday that court verdicts issued in order to ban certain candidates were tardy, as the SEC had already printed voting cards.
“Therefore, the SEC recurred to using posters inside polling stations informing voters about court orders, and also spread it in the media,” SEC spokesperson Omar Marwan said. Marwan added that the SEC would now re-organise electoral dates in four constituencies where results were annulled by court orders.
However, the SEC did not mention which constituencies were concerned, but based on local news and observatory missions; those include Al-Raml in Alexandria, Damanhour in Beheira, and one constituency in Beni Suef. Moreover, the court has not set its final decision in governorates like Qena and Luxor.
Daily News Egypt spoke to several members of civil society, including observers of the current elections, to see where they stand regarding the transparency of the first round of elections.
Egypt’s will for democratic, transparent elections
Felix Mutati of the COMESA observatory mission in Egypt said parliamentary elections were characterised by “calmness and transparency”, according to laws organising elections based on observation in six governorates, including Alexandria, Giza, Beni Suef, Beheira, Fayoum and Minya, state-run media MENA reported Sunday.
Ayman Okeil, director of the Maat foundation and coordinator of the joint local international observatory mission, which includes the COMESA, believes that reporting electoral violations and analysing them are two different tasks.
“While we have traced negativities in the elections, I would rather support the idea of calmness and transparency, and even said before that these elections were the closest to democracy in Egypt,” he told Daily News Egypt.
Commenting on court annulments of elections in several constituencies, Okeil said he would rather look at the full half of the glass, meaning that instead of blaming the SEC for the errors, Okeil wants to encourage their correction.
“The SEC’s abiding by court decisions proves that there is a general will for electoral transparency and no cover up for incidents that could lead to potential forgery of results,” Okeil added.
In another example, Okeil stated that in one instance a judge was intransigent towards a member of the international observatory mission in a way that prevented her from doing her job. “But when we reported it, the Interior Ministry acted and sent security men to accompany the mission’s members, and that is what is positive in the issue,” he said.
But Okeil admitted that taking measures against candidates was out of the SEC’s hands. “We filed complaints to the SEC; they said there was not enough evidence. We responded that it was not our job to, but they said they referred [the complaints] to the prosecution authorities,” he said.
He said that on the other hand, that if the SEC did have authority to ban candidates based on complaints, it would question its neutrality and respect for the rights of candidates.
Main problems lie in laws and legislations
Hafez Abu Seada, president of the independent Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), also rejected general assumptions regarding electoral transparency or that the state wanted to orient voters towards a certain path.
“Even if we take ‘For the Love of Egypt’ as an example and all the talks that surrounded the list as being endorsed by the state, we will see that the list is formed of several political parties, which make it hard to become a one voice or state-list,” Abu Seada said.
On the other hand, he admitted there were numerous mistakes in the procedures of the elections and in the laws. According to Abu Seada, many reputable politicians were barred by heavy expenses – up to EGP 12,000 – to register as a candidate, notably the list known as Sahwet Misr, which withdrew from the elections.
“There were many violations on several levels, varying from one’s inability to run for the elections due to elevated costs, to candidates’ exaggeration in exceeding the legal maximum expenditure on electoral campaigns,” he explained. He concluded that one must be precise in looking at overall observations before making a judgment on the transparency of the parliamentary elections.
Abu Seada further added that parliamentary elections were affected by the change in the political situation, which resulted in the exclusion of two major forces – the Muslim Brotherhood and the former National Democratic Party (NDP).
According to him, the overall electoral process lacked proper organisation and flexibility in the legislations, which affected the concept of equal opportunity.
Violations partly contribute to lack of electoral transparency
A recent report issued by NGO Partners for Transparency, specifically documenting parliamentary candidates’ expenditures, highlighted at least four types of infringements related to the use of political funds, in Alexandria and Fayoum.
Those included bribing voters, not being transparent about financial amounts received, not respecting the law of having an open bank account for transactions related to elections and campaigning during periods of electoral silence.
Partners for Transparency Director Walaa Gad said violations are part of the assessment of the transparency of the elections, but the question is “to which extent the effect is”.
To elaborate, Gad said three major parties were responsible for the transparency of the elections: the state and its institutions, the SEC supervising the elections, and the candidates.
“If the first two interfere with the electoral process, then there is neither freedom nor transparency in the elections,” he said. “When violations come from the candidates, it does not necessarily affect freedom of choice but to a certain degree, influences the transparency of the elections.”
Moreover, Gad differentiated between candidates who were able to have direct influences on the results, which in that case would not be representative of people’s will, and on the other hand, violations that partly affect the results.
In an example, Gad mentioned the Moharram Bek constituency in Alexandria. “We tracked all types of financial violations committed by candidate Mamdouh Hosny. He made it to the runoff, in second position. So in this constituency, a question mark must be raised.”
“On the other hand, Haitham Aboul Ezz Hariry was very transparent and also made it to the runoff with the highest vote numbers. In that case, I would state that violations affected the results of that constituency by 25% to 30%,” Gad said.
To conclude, Gad was not in favour of generalisations, especially as court verdicts ordering the repetition of elections in some constituencies were not based on “forged results”, but rather on procedural mistakes related to candidacies.
Finally, Gad saw that political parties’ and electoral lists’ claims of non-transparency of the elections are politically driven due to losing votes, and do not stem out of legal rights, such as Nedaa Misr’s withdrawal and the Al-Nour Party’s claims.
“For [Nedaa Misr], in Upper Egypt it was very obvious that they were not getting votes. For the second party, I would say the Al-Nour Party committed the most violations and yet is complaining,” Gad stated.
Violations naturally resulted from bad electoral laws
Lawyer Negad El-Borei believes all the violations of rules are only details in the bigger picture.
“The problem is not about transparency; the problem is that elections were framed in a way that does not truly represent the political forces of the country,” he said.
El-Borei gave an example of the closed-list system, which he believes squandered 49% of voters’ will, since it wins all seats by scoring 50% +1.
“So if you want to speak about lack of transparency, it is in the design itself, which is self-interested, and therefore all violations that result are a natural turn of course, and are only minor details in comparison to the major issue,” El-Borei stated.
El-Borei judged that the state had already planned how it wanted the elections to unfold, and undertook practices to support its wish by “putting obstacles in front of Sahwet Misr, because it included politicians that go in a different direction, or by arresting young political activists who have different opinions”.