The last two months have witnessed an exchange of accusations between opposition forces and pro-government political parties over the role of the National Election Authority (NEA), reports Gamal Essam El-Din.
While the opposition, led by the Civilian Democratic Movement, an alliance of nine political parties, complained the NEA had failed to protect its candidates from intimidation while registering endorsements at public notary offices, pro-government political parties dismissed the claims as “baseless”. The NEA, they said, is well able to ensure the integrity of the upcoming presidential poll.
The NEA is regulated by three constitutional articles, last amended in 2019.
Article 208 states that the NEA is an independent entity exclusively entrusted with organising presidential elections. This includes the preparation and updating of voter lists, the drawing up of constituencies, monitoring election campaigns and funding and facilitating voting procedures for Egyptian expats.
Article 209 stipulates that the NEA’s board be composed of 10 judges, divided between the Court of Cassation, the Appeal Court, the State Council, the State Cases Authority and the Administrative Prosecution. Selected by various judicial authorities, including the Supreme Judicial Council, and endorsed by the president, they serve a single six-year term. The authority is chaired by the most senior judge at the Court of Cassation.
It allows the NEA to seek the assistance of independent public figures and election specialists and specifies that members of the NEA’s permanent executive act to ensure the authority’s neutrality, independence, and integrity.
Article 210 places the counting of votes in the presidential elections under full NEA supervision and mandates the High Administrative Court to examine any appeals filed against NEA decisions and settle them within ten days.
“The upcoming presidential election will be held under the slogan ‘a judge for every ballot box’, in accordance with Article 210 which makes it clear that referendums and elections be completely overseen and monitored by judges,” says Diaa Rashwan, head of the State Information Service (SIS).
Ihab Al-Tamawi, deputy chairman of the parliamentary Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee and a member of the pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party, notes that while the three constitutional articles address the NEA’s role in general terms, the actual details of its role are specified in the 2014 political rights law.
Under Article 8 of the political rights law an independent budget, sufficient to ensure it can exercise its role with efficiency, is allocated to the NEA. Article 7 mandates the NEA to select polling and vote-counting stations, prepare voter lists and ensure election campaigns avoid religious and racial slogans and symbols.
Article 7 also specifies “all parties, including candidates, civil society organisations and the media, observe the Egyptian code of ethics governing the polls.”
Article 9 of the political rights law requires all state authorities to assist the NEA pursue its mandate by providing necessary information and documents.
In light of these stipulations, says Al-Tamawi, the public can rest assured next month’s presidential poll will be marked by integrity.
The Civilian Democratic Movement, however, has accused the NEA of usiling its powers to prevent pro-government political parties — not least Mostaqbal Watan — from mobilising its supporters to intimidate and harass opposition candidates. Former MP Ahmed Tantawi, a member of the movement, claims Mostaqbal Watan supporters were instructed to prevent his campaign from gathering endorsements from citizens and registering them at public notary offices. Gameela Ismail, chair of the Dostour Party, also says her supporters faced harassment and violations in all governorates.
Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi posted on social media that the NEA’s failure to protect opposition candidates from pro-government intimidation means that “regardless of any guarantees, the poll will be a farce with a foregone conclusion.”
Al-Tamawi responds that such “baseless accusations” are motivated by the failure of opposition candidates to get the recommendations required to contest the poll.
“The guarantees in place aim not only at ensuring the integrity of the polls but also encourage citizens to vote in large numbers,” he says.
On 24 November, the NEA announced it had finalised the updating of voter lists.
“Following the updating of national voter lists citizens now know the polling station in which they can cast their ballot,” said NEA Hazem Badawi.
“We have responded to citizens who wanted to change the polling station in which they are allowed to vote so it is nearer their current place of residence, Citizens can now use the NEA’s website — www.elections.eg — to identify stations in which they are can vote. We want to make sure that when polls are held on 10 December, the vote will run smoothly.”
Al-Tamawi dismisses the principle that foreign organisations — particularly from the US and Europe — be allowed to monitor the election. “There is no need given the NEA has taken all the steps necessary to ensure the integrity and freedom of the vote. The participation of foreign organizations represent a violation of national sovereignty,” he says.
On 23 November, the Nazaha coalition, which has members in 34 countries, announced its intention to monitor the presidential election. Nazaha includes five foreign and two Egyptian organisations: the Echo Organisation from Greece, the Elizka Foundation from Ghana, Human Act from Romania, the Uganda National NGO Forum, Gals Forum International from Uganda, and Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights and Partners for Transparency from Egypt.
Nazaha was formed out of a “shared belief among these organisations in the significance of combining local and international monitoring efforts to assess the electoral process per internationally recognised standards for free and fair elections.”
Kofi Kankam, chair of the NGO Group in Africa affiliated with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and founder of Elizka Relief Foundation in Ghana, will lead the coalition.
Campaigns for the presidential elections will conclude on 8 December.
In Egypt the vote will take place on vote on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, 10-12 December. Expats and Egyptians travelling abroad may cast their ballots on 1-3 December.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly