Old habits die hard
Local and foreign monitors say violations marring this week's presidential run-off will not affect the final results, Gihan Shahine reports
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The first democratic presidential elections did not pass without surprises and violations
The run-off between Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafik, and the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Mursi, was marred by sporadic violations in many polling stations.
Monitors say the campaigns of both candidates were involved in violations included group voting, vote-buying, rotating pre-marked ballot papers, and ignoring regulations not to campaign immediately before the vote. There were also reports of clashes between the candidates' supporters. Monitors agree, however, that the violations were not sufficient to affect the final results.
"Violations here and there were expected," human rights activist Negad El-Boraai told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The point is that these violations were not grave enough to affect the results." he said.
The run-off poll, says El-Boraai, was better organised, and showed less irregularities, than the first round.
The Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) appeared to impose fewer restrictions on the work of monitors. Observers were allowed more than the 30 minutes inside polling stations that they were granted during the first round, and were admitted as secondary polling station counts were being tallied at regional stations.
Nasser Amin, head of the Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, says increased flexibility on the part of the PEC and judges presiding over stations was deliberate.
"The run-off was crucial. The commission realised that allowing monitors and media personnel to watch the entire process would pre-empt squabbles and help prove its integrity. The judiciary also felt greater transparency would underline the independence of judges and show their determination to combat electoral violations."
Observers belonging to former US president Jimmy Carter's centre, which deployed 90 monitors at polling centres across Egypt, complained of the restrictions imposed on his delegation by the Egyptian authorities that made their group unable to monitor the entire process. In a press conference on Tuesday, Carter observers said their delegation and campaign observers were not allowed to obtain a copy of the electoral lists, "undermining the overall transparency of the process".
"There is no way we can certify that the entire process was proper," Carter observers told journalists.
But, in general, at least on the technical level, Carter observers said that while they noted minor violations during Egypt's presidential elections, they were "not enough to affect the final results". They said the violations were only "haphazard" and that there was no pattern reported that showed that the procedure favoured a particular candidate.
Amin concurred, saying the violations were a normal consequence to the fact that the two candidates were backed by the only two political groups with the best experience in the handling of electoral campaigns under the former regime.
Not that the polls were perfect. "There were violations, of course, but they were sporadic and did not follow a pattern," says Amin. "The grave irregularities that marred almost all elections under the former regime were absent. Balloting boxes were not replaced, voters were not physically presented from casting their votes, and there were no attempts to force voters en masse to vote for a particular candidate."
A preliminary report by the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) says the most common violations were illegal campaigning, group voting and clashes between supporters of the rival candidates. Other observers say the process was marred by vote-buying, ballots cast in advance, and military and police personnel, who are barred from voting, being included on the electoral role.
The EOHR report records group voting in favour of Mohamed Mursi in Cairo, Minya and Damietta. Clashes between rival supporters were recorded in Qalioubiya, North Sinai and Qena, though Maged Sorour of the One World Monitoring Centre (OWMC) says such incidents were relatively minor, and there were no reports of serious injuries.
The OWMC says: "Both campaigns systematically broke the ban on last minute campaigning" and neither obeyed rules not to campaign in front of polling stations.
EOHR reporters witnessed members of both candidates' campaigns directing voters at polling stations. Observers also say Shafik's campaign provided air conditioned buses to ferry people to polling stations in Banha.
Such infringements, perhaps because they were expected, have attracted less attention than administrative and organisational violations which, in Amin's opinion, are "due largely to the fact that Egypt has little experience at conducting a fair electoral process".
Hafez Abu Seada, head of the EOHR and the main coordinator of the Egyptian Federation for Election Observation, says polling stations in several governorates closed on the first day of the polls even though voters were waiting to cast their ballots in clear violation of voters' rights and the regulations instituted by the Presidential Elections Commission.
The Shehab Centre for Human Rights observed Shafik campaigners distributing pre-marked ballot cards to voters entering polling stations. Returning with an empty ballot card, the voters would exchange it for money, a vote-buying practice that was used extensively under the Mubarak regime.
Other reports cite witness accounts of pre-marked ballots, for both candidates, circulating in Kafr Al-Sheikh, Qena, Sharqiya, Gharbiya and Giza. In some cases presiding judges confiscated the ballots.
A source at the Presidential Elections Commission says judges supervising polling stations in Cairo and Sharqiya province found voting cards marked for Mursi when they opened envelopes containing what they believed were fresh ballots. Papers pre-marked for Shafik were found in polling stations in Giza and were reported in other provinces during the two-day polls.
Osama El-Helw, lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP), told a press conference earlier this week that the second round of presidential polls were marred by "sporadic attempts by military personnel to rig the vote". Khaled El-Qazzaz, FJP media chief and party coordinator, said violations included "voting sheets hidden in a police vehicle in Menoufiya and unequal representation of FJP party representatives compared to Shafik campaign delegates in Qalioubiya."
Mursi's supporters also claim to have seen bus loads of military personnel -- who are not allowed to vote -- arriving at polling stations in civilian clothes. A report by a Mursi delegate published on the Brotherhood's website Ikhwan Online claimed that two police guards were seen voting at a polling station in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut. The report gave the names of the guards as Mefrih Wahba Saad Wahba and Awad Samir Awad.