Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Keeping an eye on the polls

Election monitors are already at work observing parliamentary election campaigns. Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Almost 100,000 election observers will monitor the first phase of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, due to be held on Sunday and Monday.

Expatriate Egyptians begin voting on 17 October and residents of the 14 governorates involved in the first stage on 18 and19 October. If a run-off is needed, voting abroad will take place on 26 and 27 October, and in Egypt on 27 and 28 October.

The first round of the elections covers the governorates of Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, New Valley, Red Sea, Beheira, Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh.

The Higher Election Committee (HEC) has approved the applications of 87 NGOs seeking to observe the poll.

They include six international organisations: Democracy International; Global Network for Rights and Development; International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights; Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa; Ecumenical Alliance for Human Rights and Development; and the Arab League. Between them, the six organisations will send 790 observers accompanied by 180 translators.

The local organisations granted monitoring status are expected to deploy an estimated 97,000 observers.

“Civil society organisations started monitoring elections in 2005 in an attempt to promote the democracy so long desired by Egyptians,” says Said Abdel-Hafez, coordinator of the Egyptian Coalition to Monitor the Elections, an umbrella grouping of 120 NGOs.

“In each election we have developed new tools to help the HEC and the government to improve its performance in organising the election process.”

According to the HEC, 16,000 judges will oversee the first phase of the poll, which will take place in 103 electoral districts and involve 5,460 polling stations.

A total of 286 seats are up for grabs in the first stage of the election. At a news conference last Thursday, HEC spokesperson Omar Marawan announced that 2,573 independent candidates, including 112 women, will be competing for 226 seats, and six party lists will be battling for 60.

Egypt’s new House of Representatives will comprise 596 members, 448 elected as independents, 120 through the winner-takes-all party list system and 28 appointed by the ‎president.‎

Local NGOs have identified their task as reporting any violations committed by candidates and their supporters to the HEC, monitoring media coverage to ensure it is fair and assessing the HEC’s and the government’s commitment to impartiality.

Campaign spending per candidate is limited to LE500,000, with an additional LE200,000 for run-offs. But local monitors report that many candidates in Alexandria, Assiut and Sohag may have already exceeded campaign spending ceilings.

“We will issue a detailed report after every phase of the elections which together will add up to a comprehensive evaluation of the entire election process,” says Abdel-Hafez.

The HEC’s own guidelines to the media dictate that candidates are allotted equal coverage. The media is also expected to respect national unity, and the values and traditions of Egyptian society. A committee has been formed to ensure election coverage is transparent and impartial, with committee members reporting directly to the HEC.

International monitors have already arrived in Cairo to set up their operation rooms. In a statement issued last week, the African Union (AU) announced that 40 observers were being sent to Egypt to monitor the parliamentary poll.

The AU’s Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) is led by Amos Sawyer, former interim president of Liberia, and will remain in Egypt until 30 October. It will issue a preliminary report following the first round of elections, and deploy a second mission to cover the second round of the vote scheduled on November 22 and 23.

The European Union has announced it will not be sending a full monitoring mission though a team of diplomats will observe the poll in selected governorates.

“We welcome the Egyptian government’s decision to hold parliamentary elections in October and are happy to send a team of experts to observe the electoral process,” said James Mourn, the EU’s ambassador to Cairo.

Sixty diplomats from EU countries will visit polling stations during the first stage of the election.

The US-based Democracy International began its monitoring of the election process with the registration of candidates. It has already deployed 200 observers — American, Egyptian and third country technical experts — to monitor the poll and assess the electoral environment, including legal structures, civil engagement and levels of participation.

The 790 international observers the HEC is allowing are not enough for comprehensive monitoring.

“Egypt elections are the biggest in the region. There are 350 main polling stations and an estimated 30,000 auxiliary ones. International observers will not be able to be in every poll station,” says Ayman Okail, director of Maat, an Egyptian human rights advocacy group.

International observers plan to work with their local counterparts to gain a fuller picture of what happens in Egypt’s governorates during the poll.

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