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Egypt's first day of polling sees unprecedented turnout, few violations

Violence was barely seen on the first day of the parliamentary elections, but there were other violations, many of which were linked to the Muslim Brotherhood

Sherif Tarek , Monday 28 Nov 2011
Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohammed Morsi shakes hands with a solider on the first day of parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011 (Photo: AP)
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The first day of the maiden post-revolution parliamentary elections witnessed several drawbacks and violations across the nation, most of which were reportedly committed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, it is fair to say that, on the whole, the ballot opener turned out to be way better than initially expected.

The elections got underway on 28 November as scheduled, in spite of political turmoil and further deteriorating security in Egypt in the wake of severe clashes that took place between protesters and Central Security Forces, and lasted for days in Tahrir Square and surrounding streets.

Last week’s bloody clashes, which saw over 40 killed and several thousand injured, significantly intensified revolutionaries’ calls for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to immediately hand over power to a national salvation government led by presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei.

Among other misgivings, the anti-SACF demonstrators believe a parliament under the military rule would have no real constitutional authority and insisted the junta had to step down before elections. Subsequently, they joined the current Tahrir Square sit-in that up until Sunday consisted of many thousands, boycotting the polling.

As police forces used batons, tear gas and even live ammunition against pro-democracy demonstrators during the confrontations, many also demanded the postponement of the ongoing elections, saying security has to improve first in order to ensure transparency and safety of the ballot.

Nonetheless, protests against SCAF and worries about the stuttering security status seem to be negligible on Monday as elections got underway as schedules, with the overwhelming majority of Egypt’s voters casting their votes against all odds. And meanwhile, numbers in Tahrir dramatically decreased.

The numerous electoral committees, which were primarily stationed at school buildings, saw incredibly long queues of voters as the voting process lasted, at least theoretically, for over 12 hours.

The scene evoked memories of March’s nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments proposed by SCAF, which was approved by most of the voters. It was widely regarded as Egyptians’ first experience of democracy. The first day of elections was similarly acclaimed by many.

“For weeks, I have been planning to boycott elections and was even trying to persuade the people I know into following suit,” Wafaa Abou Ouf, a 63-year-old senior citizen, told Ahram Online. “But after I saw the lines on TV I changed my mind and will go to vote Tuesday.”   

The elections’ opening day was far from violation-free though, with the Muslim Brotherhood, who are tipped to comprise the majority of the coming parliament, accused of several breaches.

The Brotherhood were already slated by many from across the political for boycotting the latest Tahrir Square sit-in. Their critics said they are only pursuing their own interests by making sure the elections would be held. Now, they are facing a new wave of criticism.  

Leafleting

Egyptian law stipulates electoral candidates and political parties must halt leafleting 48 hours before polling. This particular law was repeatedly broken today, especially by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) who reportedly committed other infringements throughout the day. 

Reports of intensive FJP and Brotherhood campaigning, including leafleting, have intensively come in from Ahram Online reporters and elsewhere around the country. Social network sites have also been publishing dozens of photos and videos showing FJP supporters campaigning before polling stations.

In the Abrahimya district in Alexandria, for instance, FJP and Salafist Al-Nour Party volunteers were heavily leafleting polling stations, claiming ignorance when told their actions were in violation of the law.

However, Ahmed Abu Baraka, one of the leaders of the FJP, denied reports that the party is violating electoral rules and handing out campaign flyers in front of polling stations. Abu Baraka accused the media of “systematically” spreading these rumours, which he says are completely false.

“None of the members of FJP has committed any violations of the rules, and what is happening now is a systematic media campaign against us by our competitors who own satellite channels and are violating the rules of ethical journalism," Abu Baraka said.

In the meantime, the Islamist Wasat Party filed a complaint in Fayoum against the FJP for breaching election laws by leafleting outside electoral polls and using microphones to call on people to vote for their candidates.

Other non-FJP candidates were also campaigning.

The Amira Fawzia School in Maadi saw journalist Moustafa Bakry, one of the candidates, has been leafleting at the polling stations too, causing arguments among the voters as many objected that this is in violation of the ban on campaigning during the ballot.

In Assiut, a car with an amplifier was reportedly calling voters to vote for one of the independent candidates, which is also against the law but on the bright side not threatening the welfare of voters, unlike thuggery.

Thuggery

As promised by SCAF, joint troops from the army and CSF heavily secured the electoral committees and voters. Security forces kept acts of thuggery to a minimum, contrary to initial fears that candidates from the now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) would stoop to violence in order to rig elections.

The 2010 elections, the last parliamentary ballot in the 30-year tenure of toppled president Hosni Mubarak, were blatantly orchestrated by the then ruling NDP who eliminated almost all the opposition forces. The electoral scandal was one of the catalysts that triggered the January 25 Revolution.

The ongoing elections are nowhere near as chaotic and manipulated as last year’s poll, or those previous ones to it. Nevertheless, thugs were not completely ruled out this year. The Egyptian Coalition for Electoral Observation said in an official statement that it “found thuggish acts in some voting stations”.

“In El-Zawia El-Hamra Voting Centre, thugs prevented people from reaching the polling stations. The civil society organisations’ observers were prevented from reaching the voting stations, too,” read the statement, which mentioned many other violations that were spotted on the elections’ opening day.

“The coalition observers monitored thuggish acts in front of El-Salam Primary School, in El-Zawya El-Hamra and El-Abedin School in Downtown Cairo. In Assiut, thugs in El-Badary Village prevented the voters from reaching the polling stations,” the same statement added.

What’s more, angry voters in Mattariya have taken hostage the election judge at the polling station in Ahmed Shawki School. They locked him up in protest for making them wait for long hours, for no apparent reason. Several disputes took place for what appeared to be lack of organisation.

Delays

Polling, on paper, should have started at 8:00a.m., but practically many electoral committees in different districts started to receive votes nearly at 1:00p.m., leaving many voters bemoaning while waiting for hours to reach the ballot boxes.

The Operations Room of the National Council for Human Rights has received many complaints pertain to delays in opening polling stations across the country, with many putting the delay down to lack of organisation.

At the Amira Fawzeya school in Maadi, a wealthy suburb in southern Cairo, poor organisation saw one of the polling stations open at 12:00p.m., four hours later than scheduled as frustrations initially boiled over in the first parliamentary elections, according to an Ahram Online reporter.

“I decided to be positive and come and vote, I did my duty but they are forcing me to hate the whole process,” an angry man, who arrived early in the morning to take a leading position in what turned out to be a very long queue, shouted after one of the judges failed to show up on time,  an Ahram Online reporter said.

The Egyptian Coalition for Electoral Observation said there were no ballot papers in some of the committees, such as in Dawedar, El-Kawmia, Ibn Khaldon Schools and Helmia Industrial School in Nasr City, Cairo, which was cited by many as a possible reason for the delay.

With less than half an hour to go before voting finished, the Egyptian Current Party also revealed that peripheral polling stations in the Ain Shams district of Cairo have yet to take delivery of their ballot papers, with voters running out of patience.

Bribes and other complaints

Buying off votes has always been one of the most infamous drawbacks in the parliamentary elections that were held throughout Mubarak’s rule, and that people were hoping not see during the ongoing ballot. That was not the case unfortunately.

Some political forces have reportedly resorted to bribes in order to win votes. Once again, the Brotherhood’s name was brought up in this accusation.

According to El-Badeel news website, several political parties are engaged in buying votes in Cairo and Alexandria. Evidence, if there was any, is yet to emerge to substantiate the allegation.

Election observers have told El-Badeel that among the offenders are the Brotherhood’s FJP, the Salafist Nour Party, established liberal party Wafd, and members of the dissolved NDP who have all been buying off voters with mobile phone credit and meat in various impoverished neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, there were other concerns that ballot papers have not been stamped by the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC). The Egyptian Coalition for Electoral Observation documented that problem, highlighting that the same setback occurred during the constitutional referendum in March.

In other complaints cited by the Egyptian Coalition for Electoral Observation, some independent candidates were transporting voters to vote for them El-Ashraf Primary School, which is also against the law.

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