Behind the scenes
Minor and limited irregularities are unlikely to have affected the results of last week's poll, say monitors, Gihan Shahine reports
Local and foreign observers monitoring last week's presidential elections under conditions they described as restrictive have reported a limited number of irregularities though there is near consensus among them that the polls were among Egypt's best organised. Relatively fair, transparent and well-organised, there have been no confirmed reports of vote rigging and only a handful of violent incidents when the supporters of rival candidates came to blows.
Former US president Jimmy Carter, whose eponymous centre deployed 102 monitors at polling stations across Egypt, said on Sunday that observers had noted minor violations but that the vote was "acceptable" and "encouraging" despite irregularities that were "not enough to affect the final results".
Among the "relatively minor violations", according to Carter, was a lack of privacy for voters due to station layout and overcrowding. The centre's report said other violations included failure to check voters' fingers for indelible ink indicating they had already voted, and the late opening and early closure of some polling stations.
In general, said Carter, these violations were "haphazard".
"There was no pattern reported... that showed the procedure favoured a particular candidate."
Carter earlier praised measures taken by the government to ensure the vote would be free of violations, saying that the whole electoral process was more organised and smoother than last year's parliamentary elections.
The former US president, however, complained of restrictions imposed on the Carter Centre's delegation which had made it impossible for monitors to cover the entire process. In a statement the centre said its delegation and campaign observers were not allowed to see the collation of votes at regional stations, "undermining the overall transparency of the process"
"There is no way we can certify that the entire process was proper," Carter told journalists.
Human rights activist Bahieddin Hassan said both local and foreign monitors were unable to give a detailed report on the whole electoral process due to "severe restrictions, perhaps the worst-ever, imposed on their work".
Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Delegation for Electoral Monitoring (EDEM), an umbrella grouping of 28 NGOs that observed the elections independently, said that on a technical level last week's presidential polls were "the best run in Egypt's history" and that the Presidential Elections Commission appeared strict in dealing with violations.
"It was evident this time that the commission had the political will to clamp down on irregularities," Hassan said.
The greatest concern, said Hassan, focussed on electoral lists that reportedly included the names of deceased citizens and military and police personnel. But no one, he added, can tell whether any ballots were forged as a result because monitors were not allowed to observe the balloting and counting process in its entirety or check the lists.
Unconfirmed reports have emerged of one potentially major fraud. It has been claimed that 900,000 security force members voted in favour of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik under false identities and with the help of fake identification cards issued by police officers. The Ministry of the Interior denies the claims.
Representatives of Amr Moussa's campaign team have called for investigations into the alleged fraud. Leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who narrowly failed to reach the run-off, has filed a lawsuit calling for the whole electoral process to be suspended until the prosecutor-general checks the alleged irregularities and a ruling is given in the pending case over the right of Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafik to stand.
A preliminary report by the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) issued last Thursday afternoon said voters were bribed in seven governorates by staff from the presidential campaigns of Mohamed Mursi, Ahmed Shafik and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.
The EOHR alleges that votes were being bought for between LE50 and LE150 in Alexandria, Marsa Matrouh, Sharqiya, Giza, Cairo, Qena and West Fayoum.
The Observers Without Borders Network has reported widespread campaigning during the actual vote, which is against election regulations. The network also said some polling stations opened late.
The 6 April Movement, which deployed volunteers to monitor the electoral process as part of the Oyoun Masr initiative, said it spotted a number of electoral violations, mostly in favour of presidential candidate Shafik. The movement alleged in a press conference earlier this week that Shafik had used bribes and thugs in an attempt to "persuade" people to vote for him.
Shafik was referred to the attorney-general on the first day of elections after holding a press conference in an attempt to mobilise voters. In Marsa Matrouh, a Shafik campaigner accused of purchasing votes was arrested by military personnel. Similar breaches by the Shafik campaign were reported in other north Delta governorates according to EOHR.
The EOHR also reported attempts to bribe voters by the campaigns of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi and independent Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. Monitors have also reported illegal campaigning in favour of Mursi in several governorates. There were many reports of voters' complaining that clerks in polling stations had recommended who they should vote for.
According to the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), campaigners for Mursi and Shafik were active throughout the vote in the south Delta governorate of Menoufiya.
EDEM member Mohamed Zarie told Al-Ahram Weekly that "the vote seemed superficially fair but violations still marred the process".
According to Zarie the fact that former members of the dismantled National Democratic Party (NDP) were "overtly involved in organising political activities, holding regular meetings and mobilising people to vote for Shafik is a blatant violation of the law banning NDP members from engaging in political activities".
"The fact that those activities were organised with the cooperation of police officers also brings into question the objectivity of the state."
Reports that 700 votes for Sabahi were found dumped in field in the governorate of Qena must be investigated, says Zarie.
"This incident, if proved, would raise questions about whether there were attempts to rig the vote. It would be very difficult to do that without the complicity of the state."
Hassan, meanwhile, lamented that monitors can neither confirm nor deny violations because their work was so restricted.