CAIRO: Regulations for public media coverage guidelines and the electoral process of the People’s Assembly elections taking place in November were announced by the Ministry of Information and the Supreme Electoral Commission, respectively.
Last Saturday, the Supreme Electoral Commission adopted three resolutions for the upcoming elections. The commission was formed after the 2007 constitutional amendments, which removed the obligation of judicial supervision at the actual ballot boxes, a sticking point for activists calling for impartial elections.
The first resolution was that a Justice to represent the commission would be placed in each governorate. A grievance from the recent Shoura elections was that the Supreme Electoral Commission was only present in Cairo and complaints had to be submitted there rather than in the district where reported violations took place.
The second resolution was one also adopted in April’s Shoura Council elections, wherein Egyptian civil society groups wanting to monitor the elections need to apply either to the Supreme Electoral Commission or the government-formed National Council for Human Rights.
The final resolution the commission adopted was its guarantee that all candidates have the right to freely campaign, including hosting private and public meetings. Organizing and holding a public meeting in Egypt is notoriously difficult due to the security clearances it entails. Without it, state security forces tend to cordon or shut it down, a longstanding gripe with opposition parties.
Saad Aboud, member of the Karama party which has boycotted the elections but who will run in November as an independent, told Daily News Egypt that this type of talk always preceded elections but what happened on the day was always different.
“These decisions are all announced before every election, and the reality is always different. The state will throw its weight behind the National Democratic Party candidates with all its repressive instruments and the state’s resources,” he said.
“This is my eighth campaign in 30 years, they have never delivered on what they say in terms of fairness and impartiality, I find it hard to believe that this will change this time,” he added. “The elections will not be fair. We asked that people vote with their ID cards to ensure at least some accuracy in the results but they refused.”
National Democratic Party candidate Mohamed Khalil Kwaiteh told Daily News Egypt, “What do we want from all of this? Free and fair elections. What will guarantee this is that the Egyptian people come out on the day to make their choices. However, the government must be serious about preventing any aggression at the polls and the buying of votes by businessmen and others with money.”
Additionally, the Supreme Electoral Commission pointed out that candidates using religious slogans could be stripped of their candidacy. This is aimed at any Muslim Brotherhood candidates wanting to use their “Islam is the solution” slogan.
Seventy Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested Tuesday in Alexandria as the regime continued its crackdown on the outlawed group.
The Brotherhood has decided to contest the elections, in which they run as independents. The 2007 constitutional amendments had prohibited the formation of a religious political party.
Nabil Abdel-Fatah from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt, “All the monitoring during the elections will be focused on the Muslim Brotherhood candidates and any others that veer from the tacit understanding between the opposition and the state. And this is what the [commission] will focus on, in terms of religious slogans and the like.”
“Aside from that, it will not be able to efficiently oversee the entire electoral process, especially regarding the spending caps of the candidates and the buying of votes,” he added, “We need a truly independent body that will oversee the elections in much more detail than this.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, who has called for a boycott of the elections, said on his Twitter account that the “detentions [and] lack of equal opportunities [meant] those who decided to participate in elections ought to rethink their decision. Entire process [is] fake.”
“Ignoring court decisions [and] manipulating the judicial process speak volumes about a repressive regime. Judiciary is bastion of justice,” he added.
Spending on each candidate’s campaign has been capped at LE 200,000 and an additional LE 100,000 in case of a run-off.
The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement had reported numerous violations while monitoring the Shoura Council elections in April — which was also run by the Supreme Electoral Commission — including banning candidate representatives by force form the polling stations.
Minister of Information Anas El-Fiqqi released a statement Monday in which he said that the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) would submit its guidelines for the election coverage to the Supreme Electoral Commission for review according to the Press Center.
He added that public and private media had a responsibility “to commit themselves to neutrality, objectivity and integrity when covering parties and candidates and to provide them with equal opportunities to present their views and platforms, as well as to professionally and objectively cover the campaign and the elections.”
His comments come in the wake of complaints by opposition candidates who have been refused airtime by private satellite stations for their campaign ads. The minister himself pledged that all candidates will have access to free airtime on local channels and opposition parties will be given free airtime on national channels.
Journalists wishing to cover the elections need to be accredited by the ministry. Many journalists who were accredited during the Shoura Council elections in April were prevented from entering the ballot stations on the day.
Abdel-Fatah said on this point, “Yes that is unfortunately a normal part of the Egyptian electoral process, just because you have a permit does not mean you will have access.”
And curiously, the live television broadcast equipment to be used by media on site at the polls would also need to be licensed.
Kwaiteh said, “Journalists need to be impartial and stay away from personal grievances. Free journalism should not be biased towards any candidate unless of course it’s a newspaper owned by a political party.”
Additionally, the ERTU will establish a committee to monitor media coverage during the elections as a sort of watchdog to see that Supreme Electoral Commission directives regarding the media are conformed to.
The People’s Assembly elections are slated for Nov. 28 with the run-off to be held Dec. 5.