Low voter turnout sparks debate in Egypt
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.”