“We supervised the presidential elections in accordance with the highest international standards of integrity and transparency,” said Lasheen Ibrahim, chief of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), minutes before announcing the results during a press conference in Cairo on Monday.
“We completed our work within a legal, professional and moral framework dominated by independence, impartiality, integrity, transparency, professionalism and the rule of law. The elections were conducted in a manner commensurate with Egypt’s status, the hopes and aspiration of our people and the greatness of our civilisation.”
The NEC licensed 54 local NGOs and 15 international monitoring organisations to observe the poll in which Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi won a second four-year term with 97 per cent of valid votes.
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Community of Sahel Saharan States (CENSAD), both of which monitored the ballot, issued a joint statement saying the election passed off “peacefully, transparently and in accordance with the provisions of the Egyptian electoral code”.
The two bodies deployed 33 observers between them.
“The environment outside the polling centres visited was orderly and peaceful. Voting was efficient, and we commend the people of Egypt for exercising their civic duty,” said the statement which went on to commend the NEC for organising the elections less than 12 months after being established.
In a press conference on 29 March Hop Kvingeri, the head of COMESA’s observers, applauded the role played by judges in overseeing the ballot. “Our mission toured polling stations and noticed no irregularities,” Kvingeri said.
She highlighted how holding the vote over three days had allowed the maximum number of people to participate and singled out the turnout of women voters for particular praise.
In a press conference held on the same day Adel bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Asoumi, deputy speaker of the Arab Parliament, said that in terms of integrity and commitment to international standards Egypt’s 2018 presidential election was the best yet.
The Arab Parliament’s mission comprised 14 members from 12 Arab countries who observed the work of 453 election committees.
Abdoulaye Diop, head of the African Union Election Observation Mission, said during a press conference on Friday that voters were able to cast their ballots in a peaceful and organised environment.
The African Union (AU) sent 40 observers who monitored 462 polling stations, 176 in rural and 286 in urban areas.
“The AU mission saw no evidence of fraud at any of the polling stations it visited,” said Diop. He added the widespread deployment of security forces around polling stations was “reassuring”.
“Voter turnout was generally slow with few queues throughout the three days of voting. There was a high turnout among women, and many women acted as polling officials. However, there was low turnout among younger voters.”
“While secrecy of the ballot was ensured in most polling stations visited there were instances where this was compromised due to the positioning of polling booths, the proximity of security personnel and the limited space of the polling station,” the AU said in its statement.
“Candidates’ agents were present in most polling stations observed. They were mainly the agents of one candidate. The agents were allowed to perform their duties without interference and restrictions,” the AU statement added.
It noted, however, that in the absence of clear identification it was sometimes difficult for observers to tell who was authorised to be in the polling stations.
The AU mission offered preliminary suggestions of ways to improve the conduct of future elections, including a recommendation that the government “consider strengthening its engagement with the youth and encourage more active involvement in the electoral process”. It also recommended civic education initiatives, to be undertaken in collaboration with the NEC and other stakeholders, to “improve voter turnout in future elections”.
It suggested “security personnel deployed in polling stations need to be properly briefed on their roles and responsibilities to avoid possible interference in the voting process” and noted a need to improve the layout of polling stations to enhance the secrecy of the vote.
It also advised all candidates “to have agents at polling stations to increase the transparency and credibility of the voting process”.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Sanad said Egypt welcomed the recommendations of the regional and international organisations that had observed the presidential election, promising all their suggestions would be seriously considered.
Sanad added he was happy the report compiled by COMESA and CENSAD concluded “the presidential election was credible and transparent.”
Over the three-day poll the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) visited 4,500 polling stations around the country. It noted a significantly higher turnout among women than men, and a high turnout among senior citizens.
“The third day of elections was the only day on which EOHR observers were not harassed or prevented from entering polling stations. On the first two days there were isolated incidents that impeded our mission,” the EOHR said.
The EOHR reported a number of “minor violations and infractions”.
“In Luxor and Assiut a number of polling stations opened their doors to voters late,” it said. The EOHR also documented “campaigning in favour of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi across the country” during the period of electoral silence that immediately preceded the vote.
It also said that in a number of rural areas citizens were told from the pulpit of mosques to go and vote or else face a LE500 fine.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly