Why such low turnout in Egypt’s elections?
Voter turnout can be used to judge the political awareness of a society but the latest parliamentary elections in Egypt require different calculations. While there was low participation during the first stage of the vote, this is not necessarily proof of the general support of those calling for a boycott.
It would be hard to say that there is little participation in these elections when about 5,700 candidates are standing for parliament and there have been large expenditures on political campaigns and advertising. The fact that many of the parliamentary candidates are businessmen means that even more money is being spent on campaigns than usual.
Therefore, it is only natural for some to be attracted to these campaigns while many others become frustrated and angered and ultimately stay away from the polling place.
There is also the issue of the weakness of Egypt’s political parties, with tribal and family considerations in the country playing a more important role, as evidenced by the failure of the majority of political parties to form viable blocs and coalitions. Among those that succeeded in forming electoral alliances, the coalitions are fragile and may not last into the tenure of the next parliament.
Egypt’s social and economic problems also have an effect on voter turnout. Because of general frustration, some of those who called for the boycott have tried to blame low voter turnout on the government. Senior Egyptian officials acknowledged that the country is facing major challenges but said high voter turnout could increase hope for reform.
As for those who called for the boycott of the elections, they actually have little presence on the street. They are seeking to increase the frustration of the public, exploiting the situation and blaming everything on the government.
The return of candidates who previously belonged to the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) in an attempt to regain their lost influence has frustrated many. The weakness of new political parties has given former NDP figures an opportunity to return to political life, as they have experience in election battles and can use this to attract support.
An election boycott would certainly be significant if more parties and voters were taking part in the campaign.
No matter how low the turnout, a parliament will be formed. Yes, low turnout has political connotations but this does not detract from the legitimacy of the next parliament nor does it mean that those who are boycotting have significant influence on voters. In fact, if they had any real presence, they would have rushed to participate in the election process and ensure their place in parliament.
But it seems they prefer slowing the implementation of Egypt’s transitional road map — of which parliamentary elections are the third stage — over participating and possibly failing to win any seats. In short, they would prefer to use the parliamentary vacuum as a stick to beat the regime with.
The government has gone all out to push for political participation, even though some officials acknowledged that the next parliament will likely not be a good representation of the Egyptian people’s desires.
Ultimately, however, this is a necessary step; Egypt needs a parliament. Even if this parliament does not meet the people’s hopes, its presence is important and perhaps will ensure that the following parliament is more representative.