Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Expatriates start the vote

The turnout among Egyptian expatriates taking part in this week’s parliamentary elections was “average”, reports Doaa El-Bey

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The head of the Higher Election Committee (HEC) Ayman Abbas declared in a press conference on Tuesday evening that in 139 countries, 30,531 voters took part in the elections — 28,675 valid votes and 1856 void.

The first round of expatriate voting started on Saturday and continued for two days with “average participation”, according to the Foreign Ministry. Hamdi Loza, the assistant foreign minister responsible for expatriate voting, said that the turnout in the elections was “average” and that the elections had been held without complaints or reported violations.

“Selecting suitable candidates in the parliamentary elections is far more challenging than in the presidential elections. We needed more information before we were able to choose. It was not available or easy for us to get,” said Essam, an Egyptian doctor who has lived in the UK for more than 20 years.

Essam talked to his family and friends and was able to make a satisfactory choice. But he said he was possibly influenced by the viewpoints of his friends rather than making a completely independent selection himself.

He was also able to travel to London to vote, but few of his friends could do the same. Postal voting would have made life easier, he said. This was allowed in the last parliamentary elections, but was not allowed in last year’s presidential elections and constitutional referendum.

The lack of postal voting was also an obstacle for Heba, who lives in the US, since she would have had to drive to the nearest Egyptian mission to vote. “I was willing to take part in choosing the next parliament, but I could not drive hundreds of miles to vote. Most of my friends and acquaintances faced the same problem,” she said.

Initial reports indicated that the For the Love of Egypt list received the most votes. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which have sizeable voting blocs, saw very low participation, with only 6,000 expats in Saudi Arabia and 2,000 in Kuwait voting in the first round. Nearly 83 per cent of Egyptian expats live in the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. There are some eight to ten million Egyptians living abroad.

The most recent figure for registered voters abroad, recorded in the 2012 presidential elections, was 861,695, with 571,305 citizens living in the Gulf. The number of registered voters then was 187,871in Riyadh and 124,686 in Jeddah. In Kuwait, they were 132,255, and in Qatar 32,100.

Other figures included: UAE, 67,698; Oman, 10,569; Bahrain, 6,126; Jordan, 5,000; the US, around 500,000; Canada, 13,000; Italy, 12,000; and Australia, 6,000.

While it would be premature to describe the turnout as “very low” because there is still the second round, there were reasons why voters were reluctant to participate abroad as well as inside Egypt, according to one diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous.

“Citizens, especially expats, were not given enough information to allow them to make an informed decision. Besides, one cannot say that the different parties and lists had clear programmes that the citizens could read, understand and then make their choice,” he said. The absence of postal voting had presented a real challenge to expats, especially those living in large countries like the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

A total of 136 Egyptian embassies and consulates around the world hosted expat voting for the parliamentary elections. Loza said there were no polling stations in Somalia, Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic for political or security reasons. Expatriates living in these countries are allowed to vote in polling stations in nearby countries or to travel to Egypt to vote.

In previous elections, the Higher Elections Commission (HEC) cancelled the voting in Libya, Yemen and Syria for the same reasons. Egyptian diplomatic offices in these countries have also been shut down due to security and political turmoil during the present elections.

The expat voting process is scheduled in two phases: the first round was held on 17 and 18 October and the second will be carried out on 21 and 22 November.

At a press conference, Omar Marawan, spokesperson of the HEC, explained that expatriates were expected to present their national IDs or passports, including their national ID number and home address in Egypt, and fill in a form confirming their residence abroad before being allowed to vote. The form is available on the HEC website.

“The HEC is taking part in a workshop training diplomats and embassy administrative staff taking part in the expat elections in the latest technology,” Marawan added.

In last year’s presidential elections, more than 317,109 expats took part. More than 90 per cent of the voters chose Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as Egypt’s president. Some 314,000 expats took part in the 2012 presidential elections and 287,000 in the last parliamentary elections.

The expatriate vote was held one day earlier than the home vote to allow more time, including the weekend, for expatriates to vote and for the results to be sent to the elections committee. The counting started on Sunday evening in embassies and consulates after the polling stations closed.

The missions are not supposed to disclose the results, with these being sent to the Foreign Ministry in Egypt, which will collect the results and send them to the HEC. The latter will then declare the results of the expatriate vote with those of the home vote.

Polling stations in embassies and consulates abroad include members of the diplomatic and consular corps, as well as administrative personnel from Egypt’s embassies worldwide.

The new system used for the elections — introduced after the 25 January Revolution — gives every Egyptian citizen living abroad, whether temporarily or permanently, and who is registered on the electoral roll and has a national ID card, even if expired, or a valid passport, the right to cast his or her vote in the nearest Egyptian embassy or consulate.

The committee in charge of the procedures has taken measures to make voting easier for expatriates, among them by canceling the pre-registration that had been presented as an obstacle for many voters in previous elections. The use of passports as ID has allowed large numbers of expats to take part in the elections.

But this year’s cancellation of the postal vote was a drawback. Voting in last year’s constitutional referendum and presidential elections was only allowed in person, a step that was not welcomed by many residents in Canada, the US, or Saudi Arabia, especially those living far from polling stations.

Canceling the postal vote was attributed to the desire to give equal rights to Egyptians living inside and outside the country. People inside Egypt have to cast their votes in person and are only allowed to use the national ID card in order to do so.

The controversy over the right of Egyptian expatriates to vote in elections dates back to April 2011, when the then cabinet announced that Egyptians living overseas should be allowed to vote in the presidential elections and referendums at embassies and consulates abroad as part of amendments to the law on political participation.

In October 2011, an administrative court ruled that Egyptians living abroad had the right to cast ballots in the parliamentary polls. One month later, Egypt’s then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) passed a law regulating expatriate voting in parliamentary and presidential elections and in referendums, allowing expatriates to vote in embassies and consulates in the countries in which they lived.

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