Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Expats have their say

Egyptian expatriates started voting in the constitutional referendum yesterday amid expectations of a low turnout, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Unlike in previous elections, the Elections Committee gave ample time for registration, leaving expatriates with no excuse for not taking part in the referendum,” said Dina, a teacher living in Kuwait for more than 12 years who intends to vote in the referendum.

However, Sami, a professional who lives in Saudi Arabia, said that voting in person at Egyptian embassies or consulates abroad could be an obstacle for many, possibly preventing them from taking part in the referendum.

“I personally will go to the embassy, although it is not close to where I live. But I have many friends who will not be able to drive such a long way,” he said.

Sami said that it was a good thing that voting would be taking place over five days with a weekend in the middle, especially for people living in the Gulf, Europe or the US. However, in some cases the drive to the nearest embassy would be too long, and some people would not have the money or time to do it.

Some 681,695 Egyptian expatriates, registered by name on the website of the Elections Committee, are expected to head to 138 polling stations — 127 embassies and 11 consulates — in 141 countries to vote on the country’s new constitution from 8 to 12 January 2014.

Unlike in previous parliamentary and presidential elections, which allowed voting by post, voting in the referendum is only allowed in person. The national ID card or the new passport that has the national ID number printed on it are the only proofs of identity allowed to vote in the referendum.

Although some have pointed out that these restrictions may put further burdens on expatriates who do not have a national ID or new passport and on those who cannot vote in person, Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti said that the ministry was following regulations issued by the Elections Committee.

“The committee aims to give equal rights to Egyptians living inside and outside the country,” he said.

In Egypt, people have to cast their vote in person and are only allowed to use the national ID card in order to be allowed to cast it.

The expatriate vote is being held one week 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 will start on Sunday evening in every embassy or consulate, and the results will be sent to the Foreign Ministry in Egypt which will collect the results and send them to the Elections Committee.

The latter will then declare the results of the expatriate vote with those of the home vote. Voting on the referendum inside Egypt is scheduled on 14 and 15 January.

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

The Foreign Ministry, Abdel-Atti said, had established an operations room to supervise the voting process around the clock.

At the beginning of the month, the ministry had opened the door to expatriates who wanted to monitor the election process to apply before 6 January provided that they applied at the polling station at which they were registered and followed the rules and regulations set by the Elections Committee.

More diplomatic staff have been dispatched, especially to Gulf polling stations that are expected to serve a large number of voters.

Out of the 681,695 voters registered to vote, 312,000 live in Saudi Arabia, 132,000 in Kuwait, 67,000 in the UAE, 42,000 in Qatar and 31,000 in the US. The rest are scattered across the world, and in some countries fewer than five people have registered to vote.

In the last presidential elections, the high turnout of voters in Saudi Arabia caused traffic jams around the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh. Saudi diplomatic security forces are expected to control the large number of expatriates expected, the embassy said in a statement earlier this year.

The elections process is straightforward. Voters were supposed to log onto the elections website during the registration period that ended on 3 December 2013, prepare the accepted ID, print out the voting form that was available from 5 January, and then go to the polling station at which they are registered.

The controversy over the right of Egyptian expatriates to vote 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 the 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 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.

Out of the some eight million Egyptians living abroad, only some 681,000 have registered to vote, with a small increase of 20,000 from the last presidential elections. This represents fewer than 10 per cent of all Egyptian expatriates.

Although the low turnout has caused frustration to the organisers of the elections, who want more expatriates to take part in the process, Ali Al-Esheiri, the Foreign Ministry assistant for Egyptian expatriate and consular affairs, expected that this number would increase in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

“There will be a chance for more people to join in during the registration period that will be allowed before both elections,” he said.

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