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Will Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential elections be free from forgery?

Amid fears that violations might occur, various NGOs are getting ready to monitor the polls

Sarah Mourad , Tuesday 22 May 2012
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Man crossing in front of presidential candidate Amr Moussa's posters, with graffiti saying "remnant of the past regime" (Photo: Reuters)
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Amid rising anticipation, the first post-Mubarak presidential elections will take place this week, but some Egyptians are concerned about potential forgery and violations.

Some potential voters are boycotting the process, explaining that elections held under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) cannot be reliable, and that the results will probably not be in the revolution’s favour. However, various NGOs plan to monitor the elections, which may give voters some relief.

On Monday, the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) approved 53 licenses for NGOs to observe the elections, alongside SPEC itself and presidential candidates’ delegates.

International observers include monitors from the Carter Center, a US-based NGO headed by former US president Jimmy Carter, and observers from the African Union.

The Carter Centre is among three foreign NGOs that have been authorised by Egypt's SPEC to observe the polling process and vote-counting procedures.

Other NGOs that will either monitor the elections or will collect violation complaints related to the voting process include: the National Center for Human Rights, the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies, the Cairo-based Hisham Mubarak Law Center, 'Shayfenkom' initiative, April 6 Youth Movement’s “Egyptian Eyes for Presidential Elections 2012”, and the Egyptian Organisation for Criminal Reform.

Some Egyptians fear that the names of dead citizens could be used as a tool for forgery.

Ahmed Seif El-Islam, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist at Cairo-based Hisham Mubarak Law Centre said that forgery is often down to two main methods – interior ministry forgery, related to lists of dead citizens, and defence ministry forgery, related to lists of police and army officers who are not allowed to vote according to Egyptian law.

“If national identification cards with the name of the citizens who are dead were forged, they could be used in the voting process,” he said.

However, he added that this would be very expensive, and in addition the number of army and police officers is not high. “The total number of army officers in Egypt is only half a million,” he said, whereas the total number of voters is between thirty to forty million.

Another fear is that the voting ballots will not be monitored by NGOs after the voting process ends on 24 May. Candidates' delegates and SPEC representatives are allowed to be present in the polling stations overnight in order to watch the ballots, according to Seif El-Islam.

He added that during the parliamentary elections, it was demanded that each polling and sub-polling station announce the number of votes each candidate received, to make it difficult for the votes to be forged.

 “I believe that any kind of central power will have to think a thousand times before attempting any kind of forgery. The political responsibility will make it very tough,” Seif El-Islam said.

He believes that the amount of forgery in the elections will depend mainly on the percentage of the participating citizens. “Forgery will be harder, if the number of voters is huge.”

In Seif El-Islam's view, detailed information about each polling station should be available online for public access, so that the 5,000 voters assigned to each polling station would be public knowledge.

 “And this is very easy to do, and will cost nothing," he added.

Hazem Mounir,  head of complaints in the National Center for Human Rights, who also monitored the 2011 parliamentary elections in Egypt, said the presidential elections will be a lot easier than the parliamentary polls as the number of candidates is much less.

Mounir stressed that at the parliamentary elections, some problems in counting votes were caused by the fact that each polling station contained only one ballot box. However, in the upcoming vote, “there will be five ballot boxes in each station, and each ballot box should contain one thousand votes."

Bothaina Kamel, a political figure who was one of the initiators of 'Shayfenkom', an initiative established in 2005 for public monitoring of elections, said that it is very important that the people are able to report violations, even if they are boycotting.

“We have a hotline,16951, through which anyone, all over  Egypt, can report any form of violation,” she said.

Engy Hamdy from the April 6 Youth Movement's “Egyptian Eyes for Presidential Elections 2012” initiative, said that they plan to stay “in the field” to see if any violations occur and to report them immediately. The initiative has monitors in all 26 governorates of Egypt, and has coordinated with some of the presidential candidates’ delegates for the same purpose.

Any reported violations will be sent to the operating room, to be checked.

Bahey El-Din Hassan, manager of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, said that there are various issues regarding NGO monitoring of the elections.

For instance, the polling stations mostly pretend that those NGOs are “only decorative, with no real active role” he said.  According to the National Council for Human Rights, many of those NGOs have not yet received permits to work, he added.

“Also, there are only a few international NGOs monitoring the elections, and only one of them is major," he added, referring to the Carter Center.

Hassan said he is afraid that there might be major issues inside polling stations, since there is a lack of administrative skill to monitor and control the elections, which might cause chaos, as happened during the parliamentary elections.

Presidential elections in Egypt will take place on May 23 and 24; the runoff round on 16 and 17 June if no single candidate wins an outright majority. Egypt's next president will be formally named on 21 June.

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