Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
2 - 8 November 2000
Issue No. 506
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Front Page

Dead men don't vote

By Khaled Dawoud

Five hours after voting started at a "women only" polling station in the town of Faqous on Sunday, only 65 voters had managed to cast ballots out of 1,813 registered on the list of voters submitted to the supervising judge by the Interior Ministry. The polling station was not empty. It was full of eager peasant women, dressed in their traditional wide, black galabiyas and head-covers, looking for their names in the voters list posted on the walls of the school where the ballot was taking place. But many could not find their names.

Samira Mohamed Saad, who said she had voted at the same polling station several times in the past, did find her name, but in a different form. It had been changed to Samira Mohamed Said, a difference of one letter in the Arabic language. The judge who was supervising the ballot for the first time in the nation's parliamentary history did not allow Samira to vote on the grounds that the name had to be identical with that written in her personal identification card or the red voting card.

In previous elections, and before the Constitutional Court ruling in late July that a judge must supervise every polling station in order to ensure the integrity of the ballot, Samira would probably have been able to vote. The ballot then was supervised by a government employee and representatives of candidates sitting next to him would have been able to identify the woman and confirm that her name is Samira Saad and not Samira Said. Moreover, had Samira tried the traditional tactics of persuasion and begged the government employee to let her vote because she did not have time and had to look after her children and cook for husband, she may have had her way.

In the last elections of 1995, opposition groups alleged that the lists of voters were not revised regularly by the Interior Ministry, making it possible even for dead people to vote. In a number of constituencies, candidates who appealed the election results with the judiciary managed to prove that several voters had forged their identities, using the names of dead people in order to be able to vote more than once. This time, as well as in previous elections, voters were not requested to affix their signatures against their names on the voting list.

The firmness displayed by judges in the first and second rounds of elections held on 18 and 29 October had definitely ensured the integrity of this year's elections. Yet, the same firmness as well as errors on the lists of voters had apparently prevented many people from casting ballots. In order to be able to provide a judge for every polling station in compliance with the Constitutional Court's ruling, the government had to reduce the number of polling stations from 42,000 to 15,000. This meant combining two, or even three, polling stations in one, thus confusing dozens of voters who said that they no longer knew where to cast their ballots. Ahmed El-Darawi, at another polling station in Faqous, said he spent three hours running from one polling station to another looking for his name. After the breathless tour, El-Darawi found a name that was close to his. But this was not enough to make him able to vote.

The supervising judge at a polling station in Faqous, who requested anonymity, conceded that the voters lists were a "mess." Yet, "I am here to apply the law, and if the names are not identical with what I have here on the list, I won't let them vote," he said. His statement may be good news to candidates, particularly opposition candidates, but the result is that many people were not allowed to vote.

Many candidates, including NDP candidates, also suffered as a result. "The judges are very strict. Many of our people were not able to vote," said Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, the representative of NDP candidate Salah El-Tarouti in Faqous. Like several other NDP candidates in Sharqiya, El-Tarouti's principal rival was a Muslim Brotherhood figure. Out of 24 candidates fielded by the outlawed Brotherhood in Sunday's second round of elections, eight ran in Sharqiya. The governorate is a well-known stronghold for the group, which has a long history of charity work and providing services to the public, such as building mosques, schools and hospitals.

The group, despite complaints about regular police crackdowns, still managed an impressive show. A special coordination office was set up for all Brotherhood candidates at Sharqiya's administrative capital, Zagazig, nearly 80 kilometres northeast of Cairo. Several young men were busy inside, receiving calls from supporters on any alleged violations or problems, while others were preparing to report the violations by telefax to international news organisations and local newspapers. Despite declared animosity to Western "imperialism and decadence," the Brotherhood still believes that the Western press and media can be of service.

In addition to complaints about the voters' lists, Brotherhood candidates claimed that more than 150 of their supporters were detained only a few hours before voting started. Even while voting was taking place, the Brotherhood candidates claimed police were rounding up many of their sympathisers. While standing in front of Zagazig's main police station, where a polling station is surprisingly located, Al-Ahram Weekly reporters saw at least two police cars loaded with young men being taken into custody. A Brotherhood escort claimed they were some of their supporters.

At the village of Natoura, close to the town of Kafr Saqr, where leading NDP candidate Mahmoud Abu Gharib was running against the Brotherhood's Sheikh Maher Aql, an army of judges was needed to organise an orderly election. In order to help voters overcome the difficulty of finding their names on the voters' lists, NDP supporters usually provide each voter with a piece of paper defining the location of his/her polling station and their numbers on the list. Only voters carrying the NDP-issued papers were allowed into the overcrowded polling station at Natoura.

According to judge Amin Tantawi, who was supervising the elections at Natoura's secondary school, 3,749 people were registered on the list, and more than 50 per cent had turned up by 2pm. Unlike several other polling stations visited by Weekly reporters, NDP supporters outside the Natoura secondary school outnumbered voters, guiding them and telling them loudly to tick against the "camel and the crescent," the two signs used by NDP candidates. Asked whether what he was doing was not illegal, one NDP supporter said: "This is Abu Gharib's village, and there won't be any votes except for him." A representative of independent candidate Amin Waked claimed that he was kicked out of the school and thrown into a nearby irrigation canal by NDP supporters when he attempted to get in a group of voters.

Mohamed Mursi, the Brotherhood's candidate in Zagazig, also alleged that none of the supporters of the group's nominees were given proxies to represent them in polling stations. "We have no one inside the polling stations, and some representatives were even kicked out," he said. Mursi also claimed that the voters' lists had been filled deliberately with erroneous names to prevent supporters from casting ballots.

However, a police source at Zagazig denied that police banned Brotherhood representatives from entering the polling stations, saying they came late after the 8am opening, and that supervising judges decided not to allow them in. According to the law, candidates' representatives have to be registered with the same polling station they are monitoring, a condition that Brotherhood candidates did not meet, added the police source. As for the "mistakes" in the voters' lists, he said that "they were minimal, and mainly typos that resulted from the merger of several polling stations at short notice."

Like all nine governorates where the second stage of elections was held, and due to the large number of candidates, there were no decisive results in Sharqiya on Sunday. Only four candidates managed to win in the first round. A tougher competition is expected in Saturday's runoffs for the province's remaining 24 seats. Four out of the eight Brotherhood candidates will be taking part in the runoffs, in confirmation of the group's strong performance in Elections 2000.

By contrast, a number of leading NDP figures emerged losers. They include Tareq El-Guindi, the NDP's secretary-general for Sharqiya, Mustafa El-Said, former economy minister and influential NDP figure, Mahmoud Metwalli, head of Sharqiya governorate's local council, and Rifaat Bayoumi, an NDP member of parliament for the past five years.

Related stories:
See Elections 2000

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