Judges supervising yesterday's presidential elections vowed to expose any rigging they see. Mona El-Nahhas
spoke to them on the eve of the vote
Hundreds of judges supervised yesterday's first multi- candidate presidential elections, following months of back and forth wrangling over whether they would participate in the process in the first place. The judges' final decision to supervise elections was made during a heated Cairo Judges Club general assembly, which was held last Friday at the organisation's downtown headquarters. While not completely satisfied with the stipulations set out by the Presidential Electoral Commission (PEC) regulating their role during the elections, judges felt they had no choice but to carry out their duty and respond to the public demand.
"We know that the presidential elections will not be conducted as perfectly as we would like them to be, but that should not prevent us from going there and exposing any violations," Cairo Judges Club chairman Zakareya Abdel-Aziz told the hundreds of judges at the assembly meeting. The judges absolved themselves from any responsibility for the vote being fair and free, a stance that has further catalysed controversies over the legitimacy of the elections.
While the PEC -- established by the presidential elections law to regulate the entire electoral process -- has been claiming for months that the elections would feature complete judicial supervision, the judges themselves beg to differ. Cassation Court deputy chief justice Ahmed Mekki, for instance, told Al-Ahram Weekly that not all the 13,000 judicial body members assigned to supervise elections are judges. "The majority of them are lawyers working for the state," he said, "who have replaced nearly 2,000 of the [most] honourable judges."
Just last week, the PEC decided to exclude hundreds of judges from the supervision process. Judges are saying the move was meant to punish those who have advocated judicial reform. Thus, judges who had threatened, during last May's general assembly, to boycott the polls unless they were given total control over the elections, were eliminated from the process, along with those who put together a report accusing the state of rigging the results of last May's referendum.
Mekki's comment also flies in the face of the PEC claim that by significantly reducing the number of auxiliary poll stations -- which were brought down from 54,000 to just 10,000 -- full judicial supervision would be ensured. During past parliamentary elections and national referendums, state employees usually ran auxiliary poll stations; the absence of active judicial supervision over auxiliary stations, experts say, was the main reason elections results were rigged and turnout figures forged.
The PEC was also criticised for not taking seniority into account when assigning judges to main and auxiliary poll stations. Thus, while some judges were assigned to head auxiliary stations, main stations were assigned to prosecutors. According to Cassation Court deputy chief justice Hesham Bastawisi, "even names of dead judges were included on the lists, which reflects how chaotic the selection process was."
These and other issues are part of a continuing battle between the Cairo Judges Club and the PEC. Accused of violating the basic rules of transparency, the commission's neutrality was called into question after it turned down several of the judges' demands, and introduced additional stipulations that judges see as impediments to fair elections.
In a clear indication that the battle may have only just begun, judges at last Friday's general assembly vowed to defy the PEC's stipulations. For one, they said they would inform candidates' representatives of the vote- sorting results in order to give candidates the chance to contest any perceived violations within 24 hours, as stipulated by the law. The judges' move was in response to the PEC's claim that it was the sole body authorised to announce elections results, a stipulation seen by judges as paving the way for rigging results and forging turnout figures. "I'm absolutely sure they will fabricate the turnout figures to claim popular legitimacy," Bastawisi said.
Judges also announced that they would allow human rights activists to monitor the election, another condition rejected by the PEC.
The general assembly also commissioned those judges who had been excluded from the monitoring process to observe and prepare a report on what they see. "While supervising elections, judges should abide by the law, and not by the stipulations of the PEC. Since the law does not prevent election monitoring, judges who have been excluded will take part without waiting for permission from the PEC," Abdel-Aziz told a Sunday press conference.
The judges also pledged to abide by all the guarantees they had previously defined as necessary for avoiding the electoral fraud that has characterised previous polls. They said voters had to place a finger in phosphoric ink before casting their votes, as an effective guarantee against multiple voting. If they refrain from doing so, judges will prevent them from voting.
Voters without pink electoral cards will not be allowed to vote, unless their names are already registered on electoral lists. In that case, they need only show a valid national ID card proving their identity.
Judges are also seeking to ensure that the police's role is limited to securing polling areas. Any police intimidation of voters, they said, would be registered as an electoral violation.