Egyptians will go to the polls on Monday to take the first of several steps in voting for a new parliament. Up to 30 million of the nation’s 50 million eligible voters may take part in what one Western observer is calling a needlessly “complicated, contradictory and non-transparent” process. And with the threat of violence hanging over the election, it is believed by most observers that any reduction in turnout will almost certainly help the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
The bewildering array of dozens of political parties will field up to 7,000 candidates for the 498-member “People’s Assembly,” or lower house of the new parliament. Further elections in January will fill out the upper house, or Shura Council, with the voting for a new president sometime after that.
With thousands of young Egyptians occupying Tahrir Square, there is fear that violence may break out once again. Thousands of protestors were injured last week while 42 died in street clashes with the military. Although relative peace reigned in the square over the weekend, there is no guarantee that the youthful demonstrators won’t take out their frustration at what they see as a corrupt process by trying to stop the election from going forward. Their demands are simple; no elections until there is an end to military rule and the transfer of power to a civilian council to guide the country through the transition to democracy. There is no chance of that happening — not with the Muslim Brotherhood cautiously backing the military’s plan for parliamentary elections.
Indeed, after initially backing the protestors, the Brotherhood then pulled out of Tahrir Square and left it to the youthful demonstrators who organized the protests that overthrew Hosni Mubarak early this year. The young activists are calling for elections to be delayed until January, but the FJP is supporting the military’s position that the vote should go forward as planned. This has engendered some bitterness among activists who see the Brotherhood’s support of the military as a cynical move to assure that the largest percentage of the vote will fall to the Islamist group.
“Even without Tahrir, there are a million ways this could be a disaster,” said one Western observer. He is hardly exaggerating. The vote will be held for two days — a twist only announced on the election commission’s Facebook page last Friday. The first round of voting will be for certain sections of the country only. The rest of the nation will vote on two days in December. There will also be runoff elections for those seats where no candidate receives a majority.
The ballot process itself is excruciatingly complex. As Joshua Hersh notes, “Once in the booth, voters will have to select a party list, as well as two independent candidates. If they do not choose two independents, their entire vote will be invalidated, a technicality that few voters seem to be aware of.”
The “party lists” are incredibly confusing:
Two-thirds of the assembly are elected using a complex, closed proportional list system via 46 multiseat districts, while the remaining third, or 166, of the members are elected via 83 two-seat constituencies. In both cases, half of the elected members must be classified as “workers and farmers” (see Eligibility, below).
Voters cast two ballots, the first for one candidate list of their choice, and the second for the two-seat constituency where they choose two candidates.
Needless to say, experienced international election observers are appalled. “If we had to do it over again, I think it would be better if the rules weren’t changing every day — even up to today,” said Les Campbell, an observer with the National Democratic Institute. Said another observer, “The larger problem is that many procedures for the actual conduct of the voting remain undefined and could be interpreted and implemented differently in every polling center.”
But most of the international observers are taking a hands-off approach. “I’ll let the Egyptians define what is legitimate or not. What we can do is amplify whatever that decision is. If the politicians are willing to compete, we should be willing to observe. But we will not pull punches on what we see,” said Campbell.
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