Elections for Egypt's Senate kicked off Sunday with polling stations opening their doors for Egyptians living abroad, two days before polls open at home.
Egyptians living in as many as 124 countries worldwide can participate in the two-day voting for the upper chamber of parliament, Lasheen Ibrahim, head of the National Elections Authority (NEA), said.
Egyptians living in these countries can participate by sending their ballots by mail to 140 Egyptian diplomatic missions. Those allowed to vote are the ones who registered their names online with the NEA between 25 and 31 July, the electoral commissioner said.
The NEA said Egyptians living in Australia and New Zealand have almost finished voting. "Diplomatic missions there received mail votes, after which the process of counting will begin,” the NEA said.
Voting for expats will run until 9pm on Monday. Voting for Egyptians at home, meanwhile, will be held Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Senate election comes after a two-week campaigning period that finished Saturday.
A total of 787 candidates are competing for seats in the 300-seat chamber after appeals filed by rejected candidates were settled by courts last week, Ibrahim said.
Two-thirds of the members will be elected via the individual candidacy and the closed party list systems, and the rest will be appointed by the president.
Only 100 of the total number of candidates will compete for the party list seats, with the remainder running for individual seats, said Ibrahim.
Ibrahim urged citizens in a TV interview Saturday to actively participate in the Senate elections.
"This is a national duty and I warn that those who opt to boycott the polls will be fined in line with the law on the exercise of political rights," said Ibrahim.
The law states that boycotters of a general poll can be fined an amount between LE300 and LE500.
Ibrahim said home voters will be required to wear face masks and that polling stations throughout Egypt will be sanitised, calling on voters to observe social distancing to help limit the spread of coronavirus.
Each of the 17,000 polling stations throughout Egypt will have a ballot box for the party list seats and another for individual seats, with one judge supervising each station, said Ibrahim.
Mohamed Fayek, head of the National Council for Human Rights, said eligible voters should be keen to participate in the first-ever elections for Egypt's Senate, the newly constituted upper house of parliament.
"The council will participate in monitoring the poll and we hope that eligible voters will actively participate in the election," said Fayek, adding that “The two-day voting for Egyptians abroad will give an early signal on how voting at home will go, in terms of turn out."
The interior ministry said it has taken all the necessary measures to secure polling stations, beefing up security deployments around polling locations and on roads leading to them.
The health ministry said Sunday it would provide around 2,800 ambulances and around 7,000 medical staff across polling locations.
The polls are expected to be swept by the Mostaqbal Watan (the Future of Homeland) party that fielded the largest number of candidates. A National Unified List led by Mostaqbal Watan will seek 100 seats allocated to party lists uncontested. The Mostaqbal Watan has 59 candidates on this list.
The Senate law stipulates that if a party list runs unopposed, it is required to win at least five per cent of the vote in order to be declared the winner. If it fails to meet the threshold, new elections will be held.
Competition will be only confined to the 100 individual seats up for grabs of which 95 will be contested by Mostaqbal Watan candidates.
The Senate's term lasts for five years.
The results of the first round of voting will be announced 19 August.
A second round of voting is slated for 8-9 September, with the results to be announced 16 September.
Senate polls will be followed by elections for the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Egyptian parliament.