Lasheen Ibrahim, head of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which is in charge of supervising the 2018 presidential election, has announced this week an election timetable will be made public on Monday.
“Article 140 of the constitution stipulates all measures necessary to hold the presidential election must be announced 120 days ahead of polling day,” said Ibrahim. “This means a timeline needs to be announced as soon as possible in order for the vote to be conducted on time in April.”
Ibrahim indicated the election would take place in the second half of April and “by 3 May 2018 — a week before Ramadan begins — Egypt will have elected a president.”
Informed sources say candidate registration has been scheduled for the first half of February. Mohamed Fahim Darwish, former head of Egypt’s Criminal Court and an election expert, told Al-Ahram Weekly the “NEC will need to hold the 10-day registration period in February so the following month, March, can be devoted to settling election appeals and campaigning.”
Ibrahim says the NEC is currently updating voter lists. “An estimated 60 million Egyptians will be entitled to vote in the coming poll and the updating of voter lists will continue until the ballot day is announced by the NEC.”
In an interview with the daily Al-Ahram Ibrahim said the number of polling stations will be increased to make voting easier. “Electronic voting will also be allowed for the first time in the coming poll though it will be on a limited scale.”
All polling stations will be under the supervision of judges.
“We are committed to implementing the principle of a judge for every ballot box in the coming presidential election,” said Ibrahim. “In addition to judges, local and foreign civil society organisations will be able to monitor the poll.”
A total of 389 public notaries across Egypt has been authorised to help citizens compile candidate recommendation forms.
“Because hopeful candidates are required to collect signatures from citizens in different governorates a form has been designed to facilitate the process. Thousands of copies will be available through public notaries.”
“In the end we hope citizens will be keen to vote, encouraged by the necessary guarantees the poll will be fair and transparent.”
“The aim,” says Ibrahim, “is that the coming presidential poll will push Egypt’s democracy forwards.”
“The NEC will do its utmost to ensure candidates are treated on an equal footing in terms of campaigning, spending and media coverage.”
According to Article 142 of the constitution, presidential candidates must secure the recommendation of at least 20 elected MPs or 25,000 eligible voters drawn from a minimum of 15 governorates, with at least 1,000 recommendations per governorate.
A ceiling of LE20 million has been set on campaign spending in the first stage of the poll, and of LE5 million in any run-off.
Commentators expect at least four presidential bids to be announced once the timetable is made public.
“Although President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has yet to give a final say on whether he will run he is expected to throw his hat into the ring once an election date is announced by the NEC,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashim Rabie.
A number of political parties and activists have already announced their backing for Al-Sisi though election rules clearly state campaigning can only begin after a final list of presidential candidates is made public by the NEC.
“Political activists and parties already campaigning for President Al-Sisi are violating both the constitution and election regulations contained in legislation governing presidential elections,” claims Rabie.
Darwish disagrees. “Activists and parties backing Al-Sisi insist their campaigns aim only at collecting signatures from members of the public on petitions urging President Al-Sisi to run for a second term.”
The pro-Al-Sisi “In Order to Build It” campaign said on 24 December that 13 million citizens had signed its petition urging the president to run for a second term. The campaign now intends to spread its net wider and encourage Egyptian expatriates to sign the petition.
Mohamed Al-Sewidi, head of the pro-regime Support Egypt parliamentary bloc, says the group’s MPs have also been busy collecting signatures urging Al-Sisi to stand.
“We support President Al-Sisi for a second term and once he takes a final decision we will coordinate with political activists on how to back his presidential campaign,” said Al-Sewidi.
Rabie expects leftist lawyer and human rights advocate Khaled Ali and liberal politician Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat to announce their candidacies once the registration door is opened, alongside “former prime minister Ahmed Shafik who returned from the United Arab Emirates last month to prepare for his bid”.
“It is important that the poll is competitive and voters are able to see candidates from different political backgrounds who present programmes between which citizens can choose in a democratic climate.”
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly