Will Egypt's elections second round be blighted by more violations?
With the second round of elections less than a day away, Ahram Online examines the different violations witnessed in the first stage
Sherif Tarek, Tuesday 13 Dec 2011
Despite earlier speculation, the parliamentary elections’ first round and its runoffs have turned out to be a success, with no parties or candidates capitalising on the chronic security vacuum to create anarchy. The first four polling days, however, were marred by numerous violations and stark disorganisation that may reappear in the second round.
Voters and parties’ representatives are held culpable for a host of the electoral infringements. On the other hand, the lack of organisation that either instigated or paved the way for some more violations is blamed on the Supreme Committee for Elections, which was subject to severe criticism as a result.
Almost all political parties swapped accusations of violations, based on the alleged accounts of their respective observers, issuing a host of reports to damage the reputation of their competitors. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political leg, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafist Nour Party, Wafd Party and the liberal Egyptian Bloc, headed by the Free Egyptians Party, have all taken swipes at each other.
Meanwhile, independent onlookers and others affiliated to watchdogs also tried to blow the whistle on lawbreakers and bad organisers. Ahram Online compiled the reported violations from all sides during the first round and runoffs, before the beginning of the second round that gets underway on Wednesday and ends late on Thursday.
All parties and electoral coalitions, as such, categorically deny all accusations against them.
Violations by campaigners and constituents
Leafleting and campaigning is considered to be the most recurrent violation that, according to video evidence widely circulated on the internet, many political parties have committed. Videos showed campaigners of the Brotherhood’s FJP, the Nour Party, the Wasat Party, the Egyptian Bloc and the Wafd Party distributing flyers to voters during the ballot at different polling stations, which is illegal.
FJP and Nour were also said to have resorted to Islamic slogans. Using religion to promote parliamentary candidates is also prohibited.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a strong-worded ultimatum that anyone who would be caught leafleting during polling would be immediately arrested. More illegal campaigning is still expected, however.
Reports on campaigners stooping to bribery to secure more votes were less than leafleting but not to a negligible extent. Physical bribes were either in the form of money or meals, according to media reports. The Egyptian Bloc was among the groups accusing of distributing food to constituents. Others claimed the FJP paid off constituents.
The bribers mainly targeted voters but in other cases they even tried to pay off judges supervising the polling. One judge reportedly informed the Supreme Committee that FJP representatives offered him money to rig elections.
Other candidates were giving voters rides by buses to polling stations, which is also illegal. The Free Egyptian Party, the leading player of the Egyptian Bloc, is facing that claim.
In comparison to previous parliamentary elections, when candidates of the now dismantled National Democratic Party (NDP) used to blatantly orchestrate the ballots as they wished, this year’s attempts to rig votes were on a small scale.
There were reported attempts by women wearing the niqab to impersonate others by using their ID cards, so that they could cast votes for a certain party more than once. Needless to say, the names of the FJP and Nour were linked to this trick.
Other political forces called on the Supreme Committee for Elections to oblige face-veiled female voters to reveal their features before female organisers to make sure they use their own ID cards.
In other cases, constituents and thugs were able to tamper with ballot boxes, like in El-Sahel constituency, Cairo, where 15 ballot boxes were lost and 75 more damaged after the presiding judge reportedly left in anger at lack of organisation. Consequently, the Supreme Administrative Court ordered re-elections in that particular area. Such incidents were partly put down to thuggery.
As promised by SCAF, joint troops from the army and central security forces (CSF) secured polling stations and voters. Indeed, security forces kept acts of thuggery to a minimum, but thugs were not completely ruled out.
It was reported that in some impoverished areas such as Cairo’s Zawia El-Hamra district and El-Badary village, Assiut, thugs prevented constituents from reaching polling stations.
Other thuggish acts seemed to have emerged as a result of lack of organisation. In some polling stations, angry voters locked up judges and security forces inside after getting fed up with waiting.
Violations by election organisers
Polling stations open late
Officially, the polling stations open at 8am and close at 7pm. Practically speaking, however, many polling stations opened at 12pm or even 1pm, leaving thousands of people waiting in endless queues on the first polling day. Organisers were more punctual the next day of the first round.
According to an Ahram Online reporter, some voters had to wait up to six hours to reach the ballot boxes.
Judges arrive late
One of the reasons why polling stations opened later than scheduled is that a number of the presiding judges in different areas arrived later than expected.
Lack of ballot papers
Another reason for the delay was the lack of ballot papers and the late transportation of them to the polling station, much to the constituents’ anger.
Unstamped ballot papers
Many observers and voters complained that a lot of the ballot papers were unstamped; ballot papers required a stamp to be valid. Some even said several judges refused to stamp the ballot papers when asked by constituents, which prompted suspicions over forgery.
Results announced late
There was no specific time to announce the results of the first round. Head of the Supreme Committee for Elections, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, told reporters who were asking him about when the results will be revealed: “Maybe tomorrow, or the day after ... we ran out of gas.”