Low voter turnout sparks debate in Egypt

Friday 23/10/2015
Polling station with no voters

CAIRO - The large number of can­didates, a lack of infor­mation about them and media campaigns against some of them and their parties deterred voters from turn­ing out in the first phase of Egyp­tian parliamentary elections, po­litical observers said.

Candidates and political parties did not have enough time before the election to campaign or make themselves and their platforms known to voters, they added.

“Candidates had less than 15 days of campaigning before the elec­tions,” said Mustafa Bakri, a jour­nalist and a parliamentary hopeful. “This was why most voters ended up not knowing anything about both the candidates and the politi­cal parties at the time of voting.”

Nearly empty polling stations in the 14 provinces of the first phase of the parliamentary elections shocked political observers and pro-government media but heart­ened Egypt’s Islamist opposition — primarily the Muslim Brotherhood — which considered the low turn­out to be an indication of declining support for Egyptian President Ab­del Fattah al-Sisi.

Egypt was hoping that the first phase of the parliamentary elec­tions would produce a turnout sim­ilar to other recent votes, including a referendum on a constitutional declaration determining Egypt’s transitional road map in March 2011.

But most voters stayed home.

Some internet activists compared a photo of voters from the 2011 ref­erendum with one from the first phase of the current parliamentary elections. The 2011 picture shows a long line of voters outside a polling station in the rain. The 2015 elec­tion photo shows a polling station with no voters.

“I will go to the nearest poll­ing station tomorrow,” one activ­ist quipped on his Facebook page. “The fact is that I am in a bad mood and want to spend some time alone.”

The low turnout was no joke for the government, which on the second day of voting allowed civil servants to leave work at noon to vote. In Alexandria, voters were of­fered free transport to polling sta­tions.

But all this did little to entice people to cast their ballots.

About 27 million Egyptians were eligible to vote in the election’s first phase October 17th and 18th. The turnout, according to preliminary election results, averaged 20-25%.

A pro-Brotherhood commenta­tor told Al Jazeera the low turnout shows that Egyptians were fed up with Sisi.

“This is why I expect a new rev­olutionary wave to take place in Egypt very soon,” Seif el-Din Abdel Fattah told the Qatari channel.

This is, however, misleading when it comes to the view on the streets.

“Egyptians are tired of revolu­tions,” said Azmi Wahid, a taxi driver in his early 50s. “We want to eat, not to revolt.”

While TV hosts on pro-Sisi pri­vate channels urged Egyptians to vote, Ahmed Atta, one of millions of Egyptian youngsters who ab­sented themselves from the vote, went with a group of other football fans to watch the training of their favourite club, al-Ahli. Thousands of other youths did the same thing.

Atta, a law school student, said he was fed up with elections in general.

“The other thing is that 46 inde­pendent candidates are contest­ing only four seats in my constitu­ency,” said Atta, who lives in the poor Giza province neighbourhood of Embaba. “The problem is that I do not know anything about any of these candidates.”

About 2,500 independent candi­dates contested 226 out of the 448 parliament seats specified for inde­pendents in the 14 provinces of the first phase of the election, while candidates in five party lists con­tested almost half of the 120 seats specified for political parties.

Another vote in the first phase of the election will be held for 368 in­dependent candidates on October 27th and 28th, while the “For the Love of Egypt” list, which contains parties backing Sisi, is said to be favoured to win the party vote in a landslide.

The second phase of the parlia­mentary elections are set for the country’s other 13 provinces on No­vember 22nd and 23rd.

“Political parties are nowhere to be found on the streets,” said Ahmed Nagui Qamha, a researcher at local think-tank Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “These parties need to go to the doorsteps of the voters, and the in­dependent candidates also need to make themselves known to these voters.”