Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Touring polling stations

Al-Ahram Weekly inspects electoral constituencies during the second round of the parliamentary polls

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Although no official figures have been released, compared with the first stage of parliamentary polls staged on 18 and 19 October, the turnout at this week’s second round was slightly higher. On Sunday and Monday, Egyptians headed to polling stations in 13 governorates to cast their votes and select their would-be representatives. Government employees were given a half-day off in a bid to boost participation. Run-offs are scheduled for 1 and 2 December.

The most flagrant violations reported during the two days of voting centred around vote-buying, influencing voters to select a certain candidate and breaking the campaign moratorium. Since such violations were committed outside polling stations, judges supervising the ballot boxes could not intervene.

In the most flagrant breach, voters reported that one vote could have been bought for as much as LE500 at some constituencies.

As was the case in the first stage, most voters appeared to have scant knowledge about the candidates or the electoral system as a whole.

The many female and elderly voters was also noticeable, as was the absence of youth.

In the second stage of the polls, around 28 million registered voters chose from among 2,847 candidates competing for 222 individual seats distributed across 102 constituencies. Fierce competition among the four electoral lists marked the second stage of the polls.

The poll was monitored by 81 local NGOs and six international organisations, in addition to 68 embassies.

Complaints voiced by voters and candidates were immediately sent to the Higher Election Commission (HEC), assigned with supervising the electoral process.

The security situation during the two days of voting was surprisingly stable, probably due to a tight security plan drawn up and carried out by the armed forces and the Interior Ministry.


Nasr City: Money, money, money

Turnout in Nasr City varied from one polling committee to another but remained low on the first day of polling.

“It is too early to assess turnout though I expect it to reach ten per cent by the end of the day [the first day of voting],” said the head of a polling committee at Al-Saediya Secondary School. The judicial source added “the election is going smoothly with no complaints witnessed.”

Outside the polling station Mohamed Ezzat, 26, and his father were searching for their names on the voters’ list fixed to a wall. “I still haven’t decided which candidates I’ll vote for. To be honest I had no intention of coming today but my father asked me to accompany him and I thought why not cast my ballot,” said Mohamed.

Nasr City is one of the largest constituencies in Cairo. Sixty one candidates are competing for three individual seats. During the campaign you could almost hear the sloshing of “political money”.

Among the candidates are Major General Taha Sayed Taha of the Conference Party, military expert Major General Hamdi Bekheit, businessman and Vice President of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions Sabri Al-Shahed, Ahmed Fathi of the Free Egyptians Party, Suzan Fawzi, Future of the Homeland Party candidate and the daughter of former MP and business tycoon Fawzi Al-Sayed, CEO of Misr Italia Holding Company Hani Al-Assaal, and Samir Ghattas, chairman of the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies. In addition to choosing three candidates out of 61, Nasr City voters could also choose between the four party lists - For the Love of Egypt, Al-Nour, the Republican Alliance and Tayyar Al-Istiqlal – standing in the Cairo and Central Delta constituency.

“The turnout is fair,” said Judge Mahmoud Kamel, head of one of the polling committees at the Workers University. “And I expect it to double during the second day of voting.”

At the Zaki Mubarak School Judge Hassan Yamama said he expected the first day’s turnout to exceed 12 per cent.

Mobile patrols crisscrossed the constituency and cars were banned from parking in the vicinity of polling stations.

Brigadier-General Mohamed Al-Ghobashi, a candidate from the Protectors of the Homeland Party complained that one of his rivals was not only paying voters but “had buses full of thugs who were deposited in front of polling stations”.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) reported on Sunday that at least one member of a candidate’s campaign team had been seen buying votes outside the Al-Malek Fahd school polling station.

A voter who requested anonymity says he saw voters being bribed in the side streets surrounding the Ismail Fahmi School in the Tenth District of Nasr City.


Heliopolis: All quiet

In Heliopolis and Nozha the turnout appeared lower than in any election held in the last four years. The queues which once allowed voters to chat for hours and exchange opinions are now consigned to memory. The reality this time round is that voting is by large a solitary experience.

At least no time was wasted.  The whole process took around five minutes, the only delays being among those voters who were having second thoughts about which of the 44 candidates fighting for two seats should receive their ballot.

Accredited observers taking notes inside and outside polling stations sometimes outnumbered the voters, a conspicuous majority of whom were women.

The faces of many of those who did turn up to vote betrayed confusion. Some had no idea how many candidates they could choose for individual seats while others did not understand how the party list part of the vote worked. Most of the candidates seemed not to be known to the constituents they aspire to represent.

In the end the four way party list battle boiled down to a fight between For the Love of Egypt and the Alliance of Social Forces. 

Out of the 44 individuals competing 15 were affiliated to political parties. The candidates included Zakaria Al-Sadat, nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat, Hisham Akram, grandson of the late Saadeddin Al-Shazli, chief of staff in the seventies and during the 6th of October War, former intelligence officer Medhat Al-Sherif, karate champion Dina Abaza, Karim Salem, the media spokesman of 2012 presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik, and the activist and writer Fatma Naout. Competition seemed most fierce between Akram, Salem and Al-Sherif.

The security presence around polling stations was heavy. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi voted soon after the polls opened on the first day at the Heliopolis Preparatory Girls School. Within minutes his wife voted at the same school. Marwa Barakat, daughter of late Hisham Barakat, the general prosecutor assassinated in June, was the judge in charge of the polling station. Al-Sisi greeted Barakat and her co-assistants and exchanged a few words with them.

The most obvious infringement of election regulations was the refusal of some candidates to halt their campaigns in the two days before the poll. Some resorted to distributing leaflets, others stationed supporters outside polling stations in an attempt to win the vote of anyone who was wavering. One female candidate attempted to hold a symposium on the eve of the elections at a sporting club only to be ejected following a dispute with club members.


Maadi: Moderate turnout           

Turnout was moderate with women outnumbering men, and older voters the young, at polling stations visited by Al-Ahram Weekly.

Security personnel outside polling stations provided help to the elderly and most polling stations had a wheel chair on site for those with impaired mobility. Each polling station had three booths dedicated to women voters.

Of the 21 candidates battling for the constituency’s single seat ten were affiliates of political parties and 11 had no known political affiliation. The candidates included Hussein Megawer, a member at the now defunct Mubarak-era National Democratic Party (NDP), and human rights campaigner Hafez Abu Seada.

Mohamed Sameh, head of one of the polling stations at Al-Azhar Institute for Girls, said turnout exceeded that of the first round.

“The majority of voters are elderly people and women. Young people have been almost absent,” said Sameh.

Many voters said they had headed to the polls out of a sense of duty.

“The security forces are organising the voting process properly and everything seems to be running smoothly,” said Mo’nes Ahmed, a dentist. “In the past I never bothered to vote but now I see it as my duty to participate in elections. Now is not the time to be passive.”

Ahmed Al-Attar, in charge of a polling station at Maadi Al-Qawmiah School for Girls, believes voters have learned the lessons of the past. “Turnout from early morning has been high,” he said. “Voters do not want to waste their ballots and seem well-informed about the candidates.” 


Al-Manial: Votes for sale

Al-Manial will return two MPs out of 27 candidates. They include Omar Bakr Al- Haddad, son of a leading member of the now dissolved NDP, and his onetime party colleague Fathi Galid.

In front of Al-Manial Industrial School for Girls a member of the Independent Current candidate’s campaign team was distributing flyers despite the ban immediately ahead of, and during, voting days.

A number of female voters who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly said they had no idea who the candidates were but had turned up to avoid being fined. Others said they were voting to prevent Islamist candidates from being elected. Some were unsure at which polling stations they were registered.

“I got the address of my polling station from the phone directory but when I arrived at Cairo Industrial Secondary School I didn’t find my name listed. But the officials there were very helpful. They directed me to the right place and I cast my ballot easily,” said Amina Essam,43, a school teacher.  

“The candidates are all unfamiliar. I don’t know anyone of them,” complained Hossam Abdel-Rahman, 45, as he arrived at Al-Manial Secondary School for Boys.

Polling station supervisor Essam Abdel-Hafez said turnout was higher than expected. “We are busy guiding and helping voters while taking care not to influence them.”

Dalia Dergham, a banker who arrived at Al-Manial Secondary School for Boys to cast her vote, said her relatives had refused to join her. “They believe whoever the authorities want to win will win. They told me it was a waste of time to vote.”

Her friends, though, were enthusiastic. “We reviewed the candidates and decided on those we believe will work for the country’s welfare,” said Dergham.

Noha Abdallah, supervising the poll at Al-Rawda Preparatory School, said candidates were partly to blame for voter apathy. “They should have made more effort to introduce themselves to voters. Many people simply don’t know who they are.”

Abdallah also criticised the media for failing to inform voters of who was running and what they stood for.

“Unfortunately I do not know many of the candidates. The only names I recognise belonged to the NDP,” says Ali Al-Gazzar, 31. “I wouldn’t vote for them. Nor will I give my vote to the Nour Party. Egypt needs parliamentary representatives who will work for the welfare of the public, not for themselves.”

There were reports that some candidates were offering constituents up to LE400 in return for their vote.

“The good old days are back,” said street vendor Saadat Ibrahim as she arrived to vote at Al-Rawda Preparatory School. “I got LE350 to cast my ballot. It’s better than nothing. And nothing is what the candidates will do for us once they are elected.” 


Abdin, Bab Al-Shereya and Al-Moski: No surprises

Despite 22 candidates fighting for a single seat the Cairo constituency of Abdin, Bab Al-Shereya and Al-Moski witnessed a modest turnout.

Mubarak-era MPs Ragab Hemeida and Talaat Kawass were among the parliamentary hopefuls. Busy accusing each other of seeking to buy votes, both candidates have now filed complaints with the Higher Elections Committee. 

Al-Ahram Weekly asked voters leaving polling stations if anyone had offered them money in return for their vote. A handful said they had been offered LE100, adding that they had refused to accept the bribe. 

Campaigning across the constituency was heavy, with banners and placards filling the streets.

“Many of my friends and family members decided to vote. We know from experience that the candidate we gave our votes to can serve our constituency,” said Khaled Fawzi, an accountant, as he was leaving Sidi Mohamed School. 

One candidate said to command a local base, Nabil Boulos, a popular wood merchant from Al-Moski, is standing in parliamentary elections for the first time. Not that he is new to politics. Like Hemeida and Kawass, Boulos was once a member of the NDP.

The low turnout made supervising the poll easier than expected though minor clashes did occur between supporters of Hemeida and Kawass. Security forces were on high alert.

Unofficial figures suggest only 33,542 of the constituency’s 160,000 registered voters bothered to cast their ballot. It also appeared Kawass was leading the independent vote and For the Love of Egypt was ahead in the party lists.


 Manshiet Nasser and Al-Gamaliya: Palpable tensions

With 30 candidates battling to fill two seats in a constituency where clan ties have typically determined the result tensions were running high during the two-day vote. The leading candidates, it was generally agreed, include Fathi Al-Sisi, the president’s cousin, Heidar Boghdadi, a former NDP MP, the Wafd Party’s Mohamed Al-Malki, popular youth figure Hani Morgan and physician Sabry Taha.

Among party lists the real competition was between For the Love of Egypt, the Republican Alliance of Social Forces and the Independence Movement.

Of the constituency’s 200,000 registered voters older members of the community turned out in the greatest numbers. “The whole family has to support our candidate,” said one man in his sixties, accompanied by his 20-something son.

Clashes were reported between supporters of candidates at many polling stations though the presence of army-backed security forces meant they were brief.

Tensions were palpable on both voting days and there were complaints of voters being bribed, particularly on Monday evening.

Hani Hashem, a representative of one of the candidates, told the Weekly that the phenomenon of buying votes had reached “disgusting levels” in Manshiet Nasser and Al-Gamaliya with voters being offered bags of food as well as money. “Attempts to buy votes were behind many of the clashes between supporters of rival candidates,” he said.

 Unofficial returns indicate 45,000 votes were cast in the constituency with Morgan, Al-Malki, Taha and Boghdadi in the lead.


Qasr Al-Nil: A mixed demographic

 “I do not really like any of the candidates but am voting out of a sense of duty,” said Samer Al-Shafei, a 49 year-old banker.

Al-Shafei is unlikely to be alone. Many voters say that while they have faith in the electoral process in theory, the platforms of the political parties and the independent candidates that are standing are at best lacklustre.

The constituency of Qasr El-Nil contains wealthy neighbourhoods such as Zamalek and Garden City alongside poorer districts such as Boulaq Abul-Ela. It has 157,000 registered voters who had to choose between 20 independent candidates competing for a single seat, and for the party lists running in the Cairo and Central Delta constituency.  

Among the individual candidates Mohamed Al-Massoud, a businessman who is a member of Free Egyptians party, devoted much of his campaign to accusing rival Mohamed Hamouda of buying votes. Hamouda, a onetime member of the NDP, is the lawyer of Ahmed Ezz, the NDP bigwig facing a raft of ongoing corruption charges.

Candidate Khaled Al-Bardawil, also a lawyer, is said to have thousands of supporters in the constituency’s Al-Azbakiya district. Malek Mustafa Bayoumi, a former civil pilot who has voiced critical views of the regime, is seen as a possible black horse candidate. He is thought to command the support of many voters in Garden City and Zamalek, areas which have turned out heavily in every election since the 25 January Revolution.

Both Hamouda and Massoud have been accused of vote-buying. Voters who spoke to the Weekly in Boulaq Abul-Ela say up to LE300 per vote was being offered on the second day of the poll.

“I saw people distributing money to voters in the street behind the Talaat Harb School polling station in Boulaq,” says Mohamed Hafez, an observer with the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections.

Days before the poll opened, candidate Mahmoud Attia withdrew from the race and filed a complaint against Massoud and Hamouda, accusing them of bribing voters.

Heba Abdel-Kerim, head of one of the polling station at Nadi Al-Talaba, told the Weekly that any candidate who documents violations should file a complaint before the Higher Election Committee.  The majority of people casting votes, she said, were older people, with younger voters’ participation “very low”.


Daqahliya: Fierce competition                                    

On the first day of voting, reported the election operations room in Mansoura, turnout exceeded 20 per cent.

Tight security measures were in place across the governorate where voting took place in 795 main polling stations and 1,759 auxiliaries. Observers say the few young people who turned up to cast their ballots were heavily outnumbered by female and older voters.

Daqahliya has 3,952,364 registered voters. Of the 366 individual candidates standing in the governorate’s 11 constituencies just 19 are women.

Daqahliya governor Hossameddin Imam said that the vote had run smoothly. There were reports that turnout was highest in rural areas where candidates had organised free transport, including tuk-tuks, to help voters reach polling stations.

Most analysts expect results in the majority of districts to be determined only after run-offs have been held. Competition has been fierce between new and old faces, with candidates from the disbanded Mubarak-era NDP facing off against rivals from newer parties.

In one Mansoura constituency 61 candidates were battling it out.  They include Wahid Fouda, the former NDP parliamentary deputy who was singled out for attack in one of former president Mohamed Morsi’s speeches, Nabil Al-Gammal, a former head of the Daqahliya Lawyers’ Syndicate, and journalist Noaman Samir. Journalists Hazem Nasr, the deputy editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar and a native of Owish Al-Hagar village, and Al-Sayed Hegazi, deputy editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, who hails from Al-Malha village, are standing in another Mansoura constituency, where they face former MPs Hassan Singab, Hassan Al-Mir and Abdel-Razzaq Al-Khatib.

In the Nabarou district the controversial owner of Faraeen satellite channel Tawfiq Okasha faces a formidable challenge in his hometown from Fouad Badrawi, a former Wafd Party MP fielding himself as an independent, and former MP Gamal Abdel-Zaher. Some commentators say Okasha’s chances have been compromised by his frequent broadsides against the security agencies and his outbursts about electoral infringements.

In Mit Ghamr, where a long list of candidates are vying over four seats, Zamalek Club chairman Mortada Mansour faces Osama Al-Sheikh, a former head of the Radio and Television Union and a bevy of former NDP MPs.


Qalioubiya: A close fight                                                

All the signs are that the governorates 25 individual seats will be determined by run-offs.

Observers reported a marked increase in turnout on the second day of the vote as well as a growing number of infringements of the ban on campaigning. In the village of Asnit one candidate actually organised a parade past the polling station on voting day.

Some candidates hired taxis, tuk-tuks and other vehicles to help transport people to polling stations. There were also attempts to buy votes in clear view of polling stations. Such incidents were reported in Tokh, Al-Khanka Abu Zaabal, Banha and Kafr Shukr. In one case a video clip was broadcast allegedly showing the son of candidate Al-Arabi Fouad bribing voters.

Bribery and arm-twisting nonetheless failed to induce a high turnout.

Polling stations opened late on the second day of the poll in Kafr Shukr, Qalioub, and Shubra Al-Kheima.

Supporters of filmmaker Khaled Youssef, who is standing in the Kafr Shukr district, claimed he won 62 per cent of the vote on the first day of balloting.

Violations continued throughout the second day of the vote. In Banha witnesses reported seeing money as well as hashish being used to bribe voters. There were also complaints of dozens of thugs in the vicinity of polling stations, especially in Manshiya Al-Nour.

In Al-Khanka, which returns four MPs, four candidates were said to have formed an alliance. Outside Al-Khanka Primary School for Boys the candidates’ supporters handed out fliers with the candidates’ names, distributing them to voters who were instructed to place ticks next to names that appeared on the list. There were also claims that voters were photographing their ballot papers in order to collect bribes on exiting polling stations.

On a different note, voters at the polling station in the Mustafa Abdel-Karim Preparatory School in Al-Zahwiyin were surprised to see the head of a sub-polling station come out of the school courtyard to help elderly and handicapped voters into the polling station.

The Nile Media Centre says female voters formed the majority on the first day of voting and predicted that turnout would be between 25 and 35 per cent.

Qalioubiya Governor Mohammed Abdel-Zaher said the vote was going ahead without any major incidents.

“The winners will be chosen by the people. We respect the people’s will and urge citizens to go out, take part in the electoral process and choose the candidates they believe will best represent them.”

Zaher praised the police and Armed Forces for securing the vote and predicted a 35 per cent turnout by the end of the second day. He stressed that while there were no major problems some candidates had registered complaints about minor violations of election regulations.


North Sinai: Against the odds

Predictions that voters in North Sinai would stay away from the polls out of concern for their safety proved wide of the mark. Voting began amid tight security. In Al-Arish judges were escorted to polling stations in armoured vehicles. The stations were cordoned off to prevent people from approaching them until the doors officially opened. Areas around polling stations were calm. An ambulance and first-aid team were on duty at each station as a precaution and wheelchairs were available for the elderly and those with special needs.

Supporters of the various candidates and their delegates appeared early and by noon queues began to form. In the five polling stations in downtown Al-Arish, judges arrived at precisely 9:15am and doors were opened to voters at 9:50am.

At Sheikh Zuweid school people of all ages arrived to cast their vote, though in central Sinai turnout was feeble. In Beir Al-Abd and Ramana members of the Dawaghra and Bayadiya tribes were out in force to support their respective candidates.

Voters who spoke to the Weekly in Al-Arish said that they had opted to vote in the hope it would bring stability and help eliminate terrorism.

Head of the North Sinai Security Directorate Ali Abu Zeid said elections were proceeding in an orderly fashion and that police and army personnel were protecting polling stations and ensuring the process ran smoothly. He stressed that the situation in North Sinai was stable and that all polling stations were safe and easily accessible.

A source from the North Sinai operations room said no reports of disturbances or incidents that might mar the conduct of the election had been received.

Earlier, spokesmen for a number of North Sinai tribes had announced tribesmen were willing to help safeguard polling stations in their areas, including Al-Hassasna, Sheikh Zuweid, Ramana and Beir Al-Abd. The Weekly has learned that there is close co-ordination between tribal leaders and the relevant security agencies.

In Beir Al-Abd tribal elders stated that they would erect tents in the vicinity of polling stations in order to help voters and protect the poll. In some marksmen were positioned on the rooftops of buildings near polling stations to protect them from any attack.

In North Sinai 37 candidates were competing for five parliamentary seats. Twenty candidates were vying for the two seats in Al-Arish, four candidates for a single seat for Sheikh Zuweid, 11 candidates for a single seat in Beir Al-Abd and two candidates for the single seat in Al-Hassasna and Nakhl.

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