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Parliamentary runoffs marred by reports of violations

[Egypt] A woman registers to cast her vote at a polling station in the working class Cairo district of Bulaq Abu El-Ela. [Date picture taken: 11/19/2005]
Parliamentary elections in Egypt are to run for six weeks. (Serene Assir/IRIN)

Runoffs for the first phase of the Egyptian parliamentary elections ended on 15 November amid reports of election irregularities, from bribery to violence and voter intimidation, election monitors said.

According to Mahmoud Ali of the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development (EASD), election monitors were prevented in several instances from entering polling stations.

“The expulsion of monitors from the polling stations clearly indicates an intention to tamper with votes and ballot boxes,” he said, despite the permission granted by a parliamentary election committee to allow NGOs and third parties to monitor voting.

Monitors dispatched by the European Union reported similar violations during last week’s ballot casting. Edward McMillan-Scott, head of the four-member EU delegation, also reported that members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) had attempted to stop impartial monitors accessing polling stations.

“Violent behaviour by a crowd of thugs...was clearly organised against us, and aimed to intimidate supporters of opposition candidates,” McMillan-Scott said.

Opposition candidates made similar accusations against the ruling party.

In Cairo’s middle-class Dokki district, the candidate for the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, Hazem Abu Ismail, was initially reported in the state press to have won.

“But then, the polling station was locked up, and monitors and candidate representatives were banned from entering,” said Helmy El-Gazar, media spokesman for the brotherhood. “Later, they announced the victory of Amal Othman, the NDP candidate.”

The EASD, which fielded 159 monitors to cover 23 districts in the elections’ first round, also reported incidents in which voters were intimidated by NDP supporters. In other areas, he said, allegations of vote buying were rife.

In light of the alleged irregularities, several parties and political groups have vowed to contest the election results.

El-Gazar said the Muslim Brotherhood would “run after our rights”.

Ali said one group of monitors had filed a complaint last week detailing the nature of the violations they had witnessed.

Nevertheless, many analysts predict that an official investigation into alleged violations was unlikely.

“This happens every time,” said Gamal Essam El-Din, an Egyptian political analyst and journalist. “The opposition and monitors push for a court case, and the government buys time by making a counter-appeal. Only by the time parliament has been formed and new members have secured immunity does the issue re-surface.”

“By then, of course, it’s too late,” he added.

A tight contest

With unofficial estimates of voter turnout ranging between 10 and 35 percent, NDP nominees have so far secured 40 percent of 133 parliamentary seats. Nominees from the Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, all of whom ran as independents, won 20 percent.

“Yesterday’s voting was more intense than last week’s because competition for seats was so tight,” said Essam El-Din. “But the NDP tried its very hardest to make sure it emerged victorious.”

According to Amr Shobky, a political analyst at the government-run Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, the relative victory of the Muslim Brotherhood was in many ways a direct consequence of the failure of other parties to launch cohesive campaigns.

“The brotherhood has thus proven that they are the strongest opposition force operating in Egypt today,” he said.

Muslim Brotherhood candidates, he added, were the “only ones who presented the electorate with a cohesive political line corresponding directly to the needs of the population, and they didn’t resort to violence or bribery in order to secure votes.”

But while the brotherhood has effectively doubled its parliamentary presence, he noted, “It’s unlikely that their strengthened position will spur any real, grassroots change in the Egyptian political spectrum on the whole.”

Meanwhile, the National Front for Change – composed mainly of candidates from secularist opposition groups, including the high-profile Kifaya, or “Enough,” party – secured eight seats.

The remaining 45 seats went to independents, many of whom are former NDP members likely to re-enter the ruling party’s fold now that they have won, according to analysts.

Election surprises

Another of last week’s surprises was the defeat of Ayman Nour, head of the opposition Al-Ghad party, by NDP nominee Yehya Wahdan, in spite of the fact that Nour had come in second in September’s presidential race against incumbent President Hosni Mubarak.

That contest represented the first time ever that multiple candidates were fielded in Egyptian presidential elections.

Nour’s spokesperson and wife, Gamila Ismail Nour, told reporters last week that they were not surprised by the results, accusing the NDP of “resorting to its usual methods.”

However, NDP supporters in the working class Cairo neighbourhood of Bulaq Abu El-Eila took issue with the accusations of fraud.

“The other nominees just don’t know how to deal with defeat,” said NDP member Akram Ramadan. “They accuse the ruling party of rigging the vote, but, in fact, it’s only natural that the strongest party should win.”

The hotly contested election still has another two phases held at two-week intervals, with runoffs in between, before it’s over.

Analysts note that this election is particularly significant because only parties holding five percent of parliamentary seats, and an equivalent percentage in the upper consultative Shura Council, will be able to field candidates in the next presidential election, scheduled for 2011.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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