Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Egypt’s elections ‘fraudulent’, say rights groups

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egypt’s elections ‘fraudulent’, say rights groups

Mon, 29/11/2010

Mohamed Elmeshad

Systematic violence, bribery, vote rigging, and other election-day infringements marred Egypt’s parliamentary election, said human rights organizations on Monday.

“These elections were conducted without any degree of integrity or transparency,” said Chairman of the Association for Community Participation Enhancement Magdy Abdel Hamid in a press conference.

Obstacles that prevented monitoring previously raised suspicion regarding the integrity of the elections, and the exclusion of the majority of opposition member voting station delegates vindicated these fears.

Polling station administrators dismissed delegates’ power of attorney authorizations as invalid, insisting that only security authorities could grant them. Public registration offices previously granted about 365,000 power of attorney authorizations for 44,500 voting stations, an average of 8-9 delegates per station, in preparation for the elections.

The government expelled many other delegates from polling stations on frivolous grounds such as insufficient space.

Hafez Abu Saeda, speaking on behalf of Egyptian Alliance for Elections Monitors, noted that 8-9 delegates per station falls under the legal limit permitted, and that purported reasons for expelling delegates is therefore an indication of potential fraud.

In addition to delegate expulsion, Amnesty International witnessed systematic barring of opposition voters from polling stations across the country.

“Armed plainclothes men and women were seen in many voting stations, while delegates and monitors were not allowed,” said Hasiba Sahrawi, Deputy Manager of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.

During previous parliamentary elections in 2005, the existence of judicial oversight safeguarded against major infractions.

This year, however, the High Elections Commission garnered criticism for its role as the judiciary’s replacement. Observers noted the commission’s non-engagement with the electoral process and accused it of failing to execute its duties as the security apparatus haphazardly filled the void by taking charge in places outside of its jurisdiction

“How can they arrest anyone chanting an illegal slogan and leave those paying LE100-200 per vote in plain-sight outside of polling stations? We (EAEM) call for the reinstitution of judiciary oversight,” said Abu Saeda.

This year’s election has seen so far only 3 election related deaths, a decrease from the 17 election related deaths witnessed in 2005. The intrusion of security forces and the systematic use of violence, however, remained dominant. “While perhaps not as extensive as the 2005 elections, violence this year was more controlled and directed,” said Sahrawi. Abu Saeda noted that roaming thugs continued to operate with impunity.

Additionally, uniformed policemen either directed or turned a blind eye to blatant acts of violent intimidation. Abdel Hamid observed that the government supervised much of the violence itself.

“We received reports of a uniformed policeman informing plain-clothed men armed with knives and nail-jutted sticks that they could leave and were no longer needed. The men had been occupying a square in front of a polling station,” said Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division Joe Stork.

The lack of investigation into the 2005 deaths, and the apparent inclination against investigating this year’s attacks served as “an indication that high levels of authority condone the violence,” according to Sahrawi.

Pre-election violations such as detention of opposition party activists, including over 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood members, and the exclusion of 400 candidates who had legally filed their candidacy papers on time, foreshadowed the difficulties that opposition party candidates would face during the elections themselves.

The more elusive but widely reported phenomenon of vote rigging constituted one such difficulty. A video from Al Jazeera captured one such instance. Hafez Abu Saeda said that he had not seen infringements of this magnitude in Egypt “for a long time.”

While there seems to be a consensus regarding the integrity of this year’s elections, Abu Saeda and the Egyptian Alliance for Election Monitors will wait until next Sunday to officially declare whether they believe its results to be accurate, “but all of the indicators point strongly towards the existence widespread fraud.” He noted that potential appeals of results need to be taken into account before deciding the issue.

Delegates from embassies of Spain, Poland, and Romania who had observed the elections lauded the proper functioning and organization of the voting process. The director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Cairo, Bahey El-Din Hassan, decried the statements as an “an affront to the ongoing struggle of Egyptians [for democracy] and to the democratic institutions that represent them.”

The ban on international monitoring and the impediments placed in front of many forms of local monitoring forced most of these organizations to rely on a grassroots approach to their methods of information gathering.

Marc Schade-Poulsen emphasized the ominous banning of international monitors from the start. “One should be proud to invite international monitors. The Egyptian government should have had all the reasons to invite them.”

*Photograph by Mohamed Hossam Eddin

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