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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Guarantees of transparency: The role of NGOs in monitoring the presidential poll

Mona El-Nahhas , Thursday 25 Jan 2018
Polling Station in Egypt
Egyptian woman casts her vote at a polling station (Reuters)
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The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has so far licensed four NGOs — the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR); MAAT Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights; Partners for Transparency (PFT); and the Egypt Peace Foundation for Development and Human Rights — to monitor the presidential election scheduled between 26 and 28 March.

Thirty NGOs had licences refused, and no foreign organisations were approved. NEC has to review the papers of the remaining applicants. NEC spokesperson Mahmoud Al-Sherif had said in a press conference that a total of 67 NGOs had applied.

The NEC expects the four licensed NGOs to apply for observer permissions via its online portal. The deadline for online applications is tomorrow.

The NEC opened the door for applications on 9 January. Forty-eight NGOs — including four foreign organisations — requested to monitor the poll.

The EOHR has already submitted requests for 1,650 observer permissions and PFT has asked for 100.

Regulations governing monitoring were set out in an NEC decree issued on 8 January. It specifies that licensed NGOs must be of good repute and be able to demonstrate a history of impartial monitoring of polls.

In the case of local NGOs, observers seeking permission to monitor the vote must be registered on voter lists. Foreign applicants were required to list the last three countries where they took part in monitoring polls.

Observers will be able to enter all polling stations but must abide by the instructions of the relevant election committees. They are banned from canvassing for candidates or attempting to influence voters in any way, and a limit will be placed on how much time can be spent in individual polling stations.

NGOs are expected to report any violations they witness to the NEC and to submit a report covering their observation of the poll once voting is complete.

The NEC can withdraw observer permissions should monitors transgress the stipulations, and cancel licences should the NEC find the transgressions are the fault of the organisation rather than of an individual monitor.

“Reports issued by the NGOs act as guarantees of the fairness and transparency of the polls,” says EOHR head Hafez Abu Seada.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) will coordinate with licensed NGOs to train their observers. The NCHR has already set up an operation room to receive complaints from NGOs and pass them on to the NEC.

The NCHR is also seeking to learn the reasons why licence applications were refused. NCHR Deputy Chairman Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr warns the limited number of NGOs licensed to monitor the vote “may give a negative impression about the integrity of the poll”.

Shukr says the conditions set by the NEC meant “several NGOs, especially those working in the field of freedoms and democracy, were reluctant to apply for licences.”

Calls by some MPs to exclude “suspicious” NGOs from the monitoring process, and regular accusations that civil society groups receive foreign funds to undermine national security, acted to compound the NGOs’ reluctance.

Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information which had its licence accusation refused by the NEC, says the whole process of monitoring is compromised because licences have been issued late.

Observers, he argues, should have been involved in monitoring the gathering of recommendations for candidates given each stage of the election process is as important as the next. 

* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly

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