Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

No long lines

Ahmed Morsy tries to find out the reasons behind the low turnout in the first phase of parliamentary elections

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As the long-awaited parliamentary elections kicked off the two-day first phase in 14 governorates this week, the most noticeable feature that made headlines was the low turnout.

Though more than 27 million Egyptians were eligible to vote in the first stage, the polling stations looked exceptionally empty compared to the 2012 polls that elected a parliament dominated by Islamists. Those elections had a more than a 54 per cent turnout.

In an attempt to boost the number of voters on the second day of the first phase, the government announced that all state employees would have a half-day off work on Monday.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) said in a statement that, compared to the first day, there were an increased number of voters by early afternoon on Monday, the second day of the first phase.

The deep concern over the turnout was not only reflected by the government’s decision but by the media’s approach to covering the electoral process. Some anchors called for restoring the LE500 penalty to be imposed on those who did not vote to urge people to come out on the second day of the first phase.

A number of TV presenters exhorted viewers to take part in the elections instead of staying at home. Other anchors were more realistic and began to analyse what went wrong.

“The low turnout reflects a loss of confidence in the value of political participation as citizens feel that they have no role in the decision-making process and hence the election itself is not something to be taken seriously,” TV anchor Lamis Al-Hadidi said during her “Huna Al-Asimah” show on CBC on Sunday.

Al-Hadidi accused candidates of not doing enough to mobilise the electorate. “The candidates should have gone out on the streets in their own constituencies in a more effective manner to inform the electorate of the importance of taking part,” said Al-Hadidi.

The low turnout was attributed by politicians and political experts to the deteriorating economic situation, voter fatigue and the dissatisfaction of youth.

“I think the humble turnout was because of the climate of despair and frustration that prevails in the low-income and middle-class communities,” Nagi Al-Shehabi, head of the Geel Party told Al-Ahram Weekly. The party is fielding 35 candidates as independents and 30 spread across electoral lists.

“Such frustration is due to the deteriorating financial and social conditions that a large part of the voters are suffering from and their loss of hope that the situation will improve,” Al-Shehabi said.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa highlighted the problem. “There is a high level of frustration in the current political scene, which might be a reason behind the low turnout. Moreover, youth voters shunned the elections because they lost trust in the political scene,” Nafaa told the Weekly.

Most young people were busy making fun of the empty polling stations on the social media websites Facebook and Twitter, using hashtags like “#instead_of_voting” and “#no_one_went”, instead of casting their votes at the polling stations.

Ahmed Mustafa, a student who was watching one polling station in Giza, said that he would not vote for the remnants of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime. “Many candidates belong to Mubarak’s regime. I already revolted against Mubarak and toppled him so I’m not going to vote for his men,” Mustafa said.

A study published by Al-Ahram newspaper on 22 September stated that out of the total number of independent candidates, more than 2,200 were members of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

“Many of the youth who took part in the 25 January Revolution that ousted Mubarak are jailed while we find Mubarak and his men are now free. It is a black comedy when we find our friends who used to be praised on TV channels for their role in the revolution are now jailed and we are supposed to go and vote for the ex-officials of the regime we revolted against,” Mustafa added.

Maged Nour is another youth who decided to boycott the elections. “I won’t vote. I voted in all the previous elections that followed the 25 January Revolution, but nothing changed. In fact, our votes are worthless since the sovereign entities do what they believe is right, like dissolving the Shura Council, a constitution and a parliament in just three years, regardless of our votes,” Nour said.

Some observers related the low turnout of the parliamentary elections to its repeated postponements. Parliamentary elections were supposed to be held six months after the new constitution was approved in early 2014, but they were repeatedly delayed for several legal and political reasons.

After many delays, the elections were supposed to be held between 12 March and 7 May this year but the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on 1 March and on 7 March that two key election laws — the Division of Electoral Constituencies Law and the House of Representatives Law — were unconstitutional.

“Delaying the elections more than once and then scheduling them to be conducted in a short time were also a reason behind the low turnout,” Nafaa said.

Emadeddin Hussein, editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Shorouk, believes that candidates failed to reach out to voters to motivate them to participate in the elections.

“The candidates are the ones to blame as they didn’t make an effort to inform the voter of their electoral programmes. The political parties also did nothing and their leaders contented themselves by appearing in the media instead of going out on to the streets to approach voters,” Hussein said in a radio interview aired on Sunday.

The parliament will comprise 568 elected members — 448 elected on an individual basis and 120 through winner-takes-all lists in four districts. The president will also appoint a further five per cent.

Prominent columnist Ibrahim Eissa argued in his front-page article in the daily Al-Maqal on Monday that the low turnout underlined the political apathy among Egyptians.

“The absence of politics in the public sphere left [President Abdel-Fattah] Al-Sisi solely in charge of just about everything. We are back to the scene that existed prior to the 25 January Revolution when people saw no point in elections, parliament or democracy,” Eissa wrote.

The second stage of the ballot includes the remaining 13 governorates — Cairo, Qalioubiya, Daqahliya, Menoufiya, Gharbiya, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Sharqiya, Damietta, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, North Sinai and South Sinai. Expatriate Egyptians will vote on 21 and 22 November and voters in Egypt on 22 and 23 November.

The two-day first-phase elections marks the third and final phase of the country’s roadmap to democracy declared by then-army chief Al-Sisi after the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. A new constitution was drafted and voted on in a national referendum at the end of 2013 and presidential elections were held in June of last year.

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