The Independent Coalition for Elections’ Observation
“No Free Elections without Democracy and
No Democracy without Public Liberties”
Evaluation of the Parliamentary Elections’ Preliminary Phase
November 13, 2010
The Independent Coalition for Elections’ Observation announced today the results of the first phase of monitoring the 2010 parliamentary electoral process. The facts show the absence of the Egyptian government’s political will to run free and fair elections and create the necessary political environment for it.
Throughout the months preceding the parliamentary election on 28 November, the Egyptian government resorted to a wide and escalating campaign to restrict public liberties, especially freedom of expression and citizens’ rights to peacefully assemble, protest, strike and participate in the political process. This has created an environment of fear amongst media and independent voices critical of the government’s performance, the opposition, and voices demanding democratic political reform.
The last period witnessed the closure of 12 TV channels, warnings against other channels, banning of political programs and the removal of their presenters, in addition to the dismissal of chief editor of the most critical newspaper. The Egyptian security has also dealt with unjustified violence against protesters and strikers. Violence was excessively used against university students protesting the rigging of the students’ elections and university guards’ presence in the universities’ premises. Security authorities are continuing their arrest campaign against political activists affiliated to opposition and reform movements. This is in addition to the ongoing restrictions on civil society and the continuation of the state of emergency.
The legislative environment regulating elections in Egypt violates the principle of equal opportunities between candidates and gives administrative and security authorities wide powers in directing and managing the electoral process. The law condenses the powers of the Supreme Electoral Commission so it has no power to call for elections, supervise electoral rolls, or monitor the candidate registration phase. It does not have an independent administrative body implementing its decisions and thus resorts to the executive body for implementation. In addition, the Commission has no accountability mechanism to hold liable those who violate its decisions. This is made possible through the legislative contradiction between law 18/2007 establishing the Supreme Electoral Commission and law 38/1972 with regards to the People’s Assembly, which expands the powers of administrative authorities in administering the electoral process.
The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE) noted that the first stage of the electoral process has seen leniency towards allowing ministers and influential individuals in the ruling party to start their campaigns using state facilities and money. This is in contradiction with Supreme Electoral Commissions decisions, which put the responsibilities of governors to implement its campaigning ban decisions. On the contrary, governors were campaigning for the interest of candidates from the ruling party. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood has been resorting to religious slogans also in contradiction with the Commission’s decisions in this regard.
During the candidate registration phase, the Minister of Interior did not specify the necessary documents for applicants. This allowed for security directorates to request documents with no legal basis. In addition, issuing these documents is done through the administrative authorities affiliated with the executive body, which in turn resulted in a delay in issuing the necessary documents for some of the opposition and independent candidates. This phase saw violations represented in banning some of the independent candidates who have defected from the ruling party from applying. In addition, applicants were given receipts that did not specify that they have submitted all the necessary documents. Applicants were forced to sign statements affirming that they shall not start their campaigning until the final candidates’ list is issued. The final candidates’ list will be announced on 14 November, only one day before the Adha Islamic holidays which means that rejected candidates will not be able to appeal in a timely manner. Additionally, such a step has effectively reduced the campaigning period to no more than one week.
Nazra Association for Feminist Studies (Nazra) has noted that those administering the electoral process are not aware of the new regulations regarding the quota system for women, the number of quota constituencies and its difference from normal constituencies. In addition, some of the electoral process administrators wrongly perceive that women are only limited to run for the quota seats. Nazra also noted that the number of candidates running for the quota seats is 397, which is 6% only of those applying for candidacy. A preliminary analysis thus shows that the percentage of women running for elections is especially low in comparison to the total number of those running for elections.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) noted through its media monitoring of 8 TV Channels (CH1, CH2, Nile News, Dream 2, ONTV, Haya 1, Faraeen) and 16 press publication (9 daily: Ahram, Akhbar, Gomhouriya, Rozal Youssef daily, Nahdet Masr, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Dostour, Shorouk, and Ahram Masa’y; and 7 weekly: Al-Usbo’, Watany, Youm7, Fagr, Rozal Youssef Magazine, Mosawar Magazine and Sout Al-Umma), that while TV coverage of the electoral process was very short, the bias towards the ruling party was very clear. This was especially the case with state owned TV channels, which have also adopted the semi-official position that the Wafd Party is going to be the second largest party in the next parliament. CIHRS also noticed that some of the candidates have used their ownership of TV channels to campaign for the elections. The Wafd Party, for example, had the highest coverage in Haya Channel, which is owned by the party’s chairman. The press was also biased towards the National Democratic Party as it provided 52.6% of its space given to the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood followed with 12% of press coverage, while much of this coverage was in the form of attacks published in state owned newspapers.
In light of the environment of fear that the Egyptian government has created for media, a reading of the results of the media monitoring shows that the press faces less pressure and restrictions in comparison to TV channels, particularly that the latter is more widespread and accessible to the illiterate citizen.
While the official discourse conveys the state’s confidence that civil society organizations will competently monitor the coming elections, this seems to be a justification to reject international monitoring. Media discourse in state owned press and TV channels has been either refraining from covering the activities of monitoring organizations or has been negatively, and occasionally aggressively doubting the credibility of reports that are to be issued by national monitors.
* The Independent Coalition for Elections’ Observation includes three Human Rights Organizations: The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and Nazra Association for Feminist Studies (Nazra). The EACPE is concerned with field observation of all the stages of the electoral process, CIHRS is concerned with monitoring the visual and written media, and Nazra is concerned with monitoring gender and women voters and candidates on regular and quota seats.
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