Voting in elections is one way of fighting terrorism, according to members of the joint international-local mission to observe Egypt’s parliamentary elections.
The observer mission, which is hosted by Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights, includes about 150 foreign observers from some 38 countries.
Other participants in the observer mission include the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
At a press conference on Saturday to mark the start of the second electoral phase, members of the mission outlined their role and concerns, as well as underlining the importance of elections in bolstering democracy in the face of terrorist violence.
Abouzar Al-Mana, the representative of GNRD, told conference attendees: “Elections, whether parliamentary or presidential, are one of the democratic tools to counter terrorism.”
Al-Mana’s comments underline a point made by Maat in a report issued on 5 October, pointing to “continuous attempts aimed at obstructing Egypt’s third step of the roadmap, attacking the regime’s legitimacy”.
Maat has been observing the circumstances in which voting has taken place since elections were first announced back in March. They have issued numerous reports relating terrorist attacks to parliamentary elections.
IIPJHR’s director Jean-François Fechino told Daily News Egypt on the sidelines of the conference that the mission’s role in the first phase included observing the behaviour and motivations of voters.
“Most voters were driven by the concept of duty, and also the wish to avoid being penalised with a fine,” Fechino stated. “In the first phase, we were very sad to see only a few people coming to polling stations, but at the same time it is not a problem that is particular to that country,” he added.
According to Fechino, many countries suffer from a lack of interest in voting because people have little faith in politics. This is especially true of younger people, in large part because politicians and their parties often fail to reach them with clear and convincing political programmes.
Maat’s Director Ayman Okeil said the mission filed 26 complaints with documented cases to the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) in the first phase. “The SEC itself said it referred 92 complaints to prosecution investigations,” Okeil said.
“The lack of action concerning those violations would be solved by legislation enforcing constitutional articles, by establishing an independent committee monitoring the elections, that must have authorization to penalise violators,” Okeil stated.
Okeil also told Daily News Egypt after the conference that the behaviour of voters was interesting.
“Voters were eager to sell their votes, and they did not see it as a crime or violation,” he said.
“If it was up to them, I would say these people want elections every day because they are financially benefiting.”
Okeil said a lot of people voted for money, with such people usually attending polling stations at the end of the second day, by which time votes can fetch “higher prices”.
While some vote to support a particular candidate, Okeil believes that in general Egyptians just wanted to prove wrong any claims linking low participation to a decrease in the popularity of the president. He said, for this reason, he expected a higher turnout in the second phase than in the first.
“Nobody, of course, said they were going to vote because they wanted a specific policy, for example. Nor do candidates have any programmes whatsoever,” Okeil concluded.
The mission has issued regular reports on violations observed during the first phase of parliamentary elections, which were held in the first 14 governorates in October. The work will continue in the second phase on Sunday and Monday, covering Cairo and 12 governorates.
According to check-list sheets used by the mission, observers evaluate several factors outside the polling stations, including voter intimidation, violence and electoral campaign materials. Observers also make estimates of voter turnout based on the queues.
The situation inside polling stations is also assessed, including the legal staffing requirements and whether observers of various kinds were allowed inside.
The mission has made recommendations aimed at encouraging higher voter turnout, better training for security forces, and a better gender balance among those involved, particularly the judges heading polling stations.
It also calls for the reinforcement of laws to penalise violations of the prohibition of campaigning during certain periods.