For many Egyptian voters, finally an election that matters
Today's parliamentary elections in Egypt saw a high turnout. Some voters confessed they didn't really know the candidates, but were excited to participate nonetheless.
Defying skeptics and a week of revolutionary tumult, Egyptian voters came out in such high numbers today that polling station hours have been extended to 9 p.m. local time.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While subsequent rounds of the parliamentary election remain to be contested over coming months, the high turnout in this first round is seen by many as a vote of confidence in the electoral process despite violent clashes last week in Tahrir Square and elsewhere that left dozens dead. Still, election observers reported significant violations.
Today's vote comes at a critical time for Egypt, whose transition from autocratic rule to a hoped-for democracy has been less than smooth. Jubilation at the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak gave way to a realization that the military council that assumed power was replicating many of his repressive policies, and delaying the timeline for transition to civilian rule.
After the military recently made moves to secure broad powers and ensure it was not accountable to civilian authorities, a reenergized protest movement came back to Tahrir Square to demand a quicker transition to civilian rule. When security forces killed more than 40 people in clashes with protesters, more Egyptians flooded the square and demanded that the military transfer power to a civilian government immediately.
Protesters have continued to occupy Tahrir Square since last week, but their numbers were low at midday Monday. Tents were sprawled across the square, where hundreds gathered to demand that the military council step down. Many in the square were boycotting the elections.
“They’re only going to forge the elections,” said Hesham Adl. “The only people who will be elected to the government are members of [Mubarak's disbanded party, the National Democratic Party] or the Brotherhood, and I fear there will be clashes.”
Like others, he has been in Tahrir since clashes broke out Nov. 19. “I’m staying here until there are changes made in the country,” said Mr. Adl.
Some problems, but little violence
Inside several Cairo polling stations, the process was slow but orderly. Voters were given two ballots, one for the individual candidates that will make up one-third of the lower house of parliament, and another for the proportional list-based system that will fill the rest of the seats. Poll workers explained the process to voters as they handed them massive ballots that accommodated more than 100 candidates in many districts. A symbol was printed next to each candidate’s name for illiterate voters.
Election monitors reported significant violations, though it is not yet clear how systematic they may have been. Sherif Azer, deputy head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, says a coalition of observers had reported violations that included vote buying, group voting, preventing monitors from entering polling stations, campaigning inside polling stations, and a small number of violent clashes.
He also says that 90 percent of polling stations opened late; some did not have enough ballots, and others lacked ink to mark voters' fingers and prevent repeat voting.
The head of the High Election Commission (also referred to as the Supreme Election Commission), which is overseeing the vote, said that some judges were late because of heavy traffic and that some ballots were sent to the wrong districts.
Mr. Azer says the violations are worrying, but fewer than in previous years. He also says the monitors reported high voter turnout in all but two of the nine governorates voting in the first round.
Les Campbell, Middle East and North Africa director for the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, says the high turnout and enthusiasm are encouraging, but that it is too early to draw conclusions.