Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 December 2010
Issue No. 1026
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Subject to question

Local monitors argue that the run-off elections, like the first round, failed to meet basic standards of transparency and fairness, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Rights groups' monitoring the second round of parliamentary elections may have recorded fewer violations than in the first. Their reports, however, share a common theme, with the majority calling on President Hosni Mubarak to dissolve the resulting parliament on the grounds that the election was rigged.

One issue of disagreement between monitors is voter turnout. Some groups place it below five per cent, others suggest it might have reached 15 per cent. The Higher Election Commission insists it was 35 per cent in the first round and 30 per cent in the run-offs.

There were two factors behind the lower turnout for the second round, say monitors: distrust of the election process after the withdrawal of the Wafd and Muslim Brotherhood and the violence that accompanied the first round.

The lowest turnout was reported in Assiut's Al-Qusiya constituency where one poll station received just 12 voters in seven hours.

The run-offs took place in 166 constituencies and involved 32,792 polling stations. A total of 383 National Democratic Party (NDP) candidates competed with 167 independent candidates, 27 of them from the Muslim Brotherhood. Withdrawals from the election were not recognised by the HEC which placed opposition candidates' names on the ballot papers.

Nine Wafd Party candidates appeared in the second round ballot, despite the party saying it too had withdrawn.

"Both rounds of elections saw violence which directly resulted in the death of citizens. Security forces acted to exclude candidates and their representatives, refused entry and in some cases forcibly expelled civil society monitors, including those with permits from the HEC," said the Independent Coalition for Election Monitoring (ICEM) in its final report on the poll.

The ICEM includes three NGOs, the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement.

Violations reported by ICEM include errors in voter lists, the hiring of thugs to intimidate voters, buying votes, harassing candidates' delegates and civil society observers, preventing voters from entering poll stations, and bussing in voters from government institutions and companies with instructions to vote for NDP candidates.

In a press conference after the run-off the ICEM released video footage of a 12 year-old child who voted seven times. The minimum voting age in Egypt is 18.

Other videos show the head of a polling station in Minya taking a bribe from a candidate's representative before stuffing voting cards into the ballot box, dogs being used to threaten voters and the arrest of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Reports have also emerged of hashish being handed out to bribe voters in the Bulaq Al-Dakrour constituency.

A video of an eight-year-old boy being examined by a doctor after he was shot in the foot in front of a polling station in Beni Sweif has also been circulating.

In an interview with the ICEM, the boy's father said his son was shot because he had told an opposition candidate that ballot cards were being forged inside the voting station. The boy's foot was so badly damaged that it will be amputated.

The absence of judicial supervision and the dominance of the executive authority over the election process meant that even the most basic standards of transparency failed to be met, says Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies.

"The Ministry of Interior retained the largest role in administering the electoral process, ratifying voters' lists, supervising the candidate registration phase, setting and amending constituency boundaries, and supervising polling stations," he says.

The Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (ECME) predicts "the failure to implement rulings of the Supreme Administrative Court" will eventually lead to the dissolution of the new parliament.

ICEM called on President Mubarak to use powers mandated by Article 136 of the constitution to dissolve the new parliament before amending the law on the exercise of political rights and calling new parliamentary elections.

"This is a necessary and urgent step in reforming the electoral system to ensure minimum standards of transparency and fairness," the coalition said in its recommendations.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif responded to NGO reports by insisting the 2010 election was subject to complete judicial oversight.

"I challenge anyone who claims there was interference by security or any other executive body in the elections," Nazif told journalists. "The criticisms levelled against the elections did not identify any specific incidents that can be investigated."

Nazif said the Muslim Brotherhood's reaction was due to their failure to win a number of seat, adding that the group "came out of the elections with nothing, which they did not expect".

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