By Hwaa Irfan
The negative impact of the unusual wet weather has dissipated, as the event of the day begins at 8.00am, however by 11.00 am it is not too difficult to find people in their cars driving around still trying to find their polling station. Those who do not have private vehicles are dependent on public transport, mainly the reliable microbus service which usually has a driver who knows his route fairly well. The community spirit of the early days of the uprising is still in the air has one young microbus driver kept warm by the cavalier way in which he wears his shamagh suddenly stops in the middle of the road with his microbus full of people on the way to work to help an old lady who looks old enough to be 100 to cross the street. These are the actions that the January 25th Revolutionists have returned to the Egyptian way of life, while many continue to protest in Tahrir Square.
Whispers of “Al Wafd” reach my ears repeatedly as one asks another about their vote… Whether that is true or not, one hopes that of the 10,000 candidates for the 168 seats available for the Lower House that the new Constitution will be put to a national referendum to ensure some level of democracy without falling back into the common global practice of voting for people who have not proven their mettle.
With a high regard for what the U.S. says, some state T.V. channels paint a glowing picture with dashes of minor violations. Watching with the sound off, the man who is portrayed as the tough leader of SCAF holds his body like an aging man not up to the task of visiting polling stations for the camera. Is this the man that has dissipated the spirit of Egyptian people in 10 months? Of course, SCAF is more than Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi!
In the throes of Day 2, it seems that SCAF is faring better than it had in recent weeks one wonders if one has heard wrongly the promise to prevent members of the previous regime, the NDP from participating in the elections. That is what came to mind when SCAF selected a former NDP prime minister to head the crisis government, and remains as former NDP members participate in elections in places like Damietta under another umbrella.
While members of the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Nour Party (Salafi) continue to violate the electoral procedure by campaigning in front of/near polling stations Islamists dominate the scene in Damietta, Alexandria – in fact it seems throughout the whole country local daily Al Masri El Youm reveal NDP members in front and behind the scenes. The Freedom Party (couldn’t they find another name?) is led by former NDP member Galal al-Alfy and has been accused of buying votes. NDP members are also in the FJP, but the one party free of NDP members Adl Party unfortunately nobody knows anything about! A natural result of an electoral process that did not allow enough time for the public to get acquainted with all the Parties to be able to cast an informed voted. Still, despite the violations a 70 year old man told Nate Wright reporting for Al Masri El Youm wrote:
“It’s better than the elections under Nasser,”
“There are no fake ballots and we can vote for who we want.”
That said and done, the unprecedented number of people casting their votes has been aided and abetted by a LE 500 penalty for not voting, and given the price of food, far too many people resented being at the polling stations – they would rather go to work than go to the ballot box. Then there is the question of who to vote for!
Standing in the queue from 9.00am – 5.00pm should do it, as to break the boredom all kinds of discussions evolved into a large dose of Egyptian humor, patience, and information about the candidates, which could be true or false. One wouldn’t face such a dilemma in Europe, where barely 60% of the population vote – that’s democracy for you!
Things got wild in the Upper Egyptian city Assiut, south of Cairo. Ahram Online describes how supporters of one candidate stormed a polling station ransacked the polling station, detained judge Hisham El-Wakil, and the head of the local police district criminal investigations – do you think they will get away with it! Well the good example set by the Ministry of Interior’s cache of 21 tons of tear gas canisters by courtesy of the U.S. via Port Wilmington (who said they didn’t take an active interest) was discovered by employees at Suez Canal port, who refused to allow the first 7 tons through the port according to Ahram Online. Does this expose the nature of the counter-revolutionary fears somewhat!
The Higher Electoral Judicial Committee gave an updated overview of the situation although not as frank as the previous day in another press conference that was scheduled at 2.00pm. One can allude to who has been whispering in their ears, but who can say for a fact. Committee member Abdul Moaz-Ibrahim assured the attendees that there were no violations pertaining to the sealed ballot boxes, and commended the Ministry of Interior on their efforts. There were repeated concerns from the floor pertaining to violations like one woman from the Cairo governorate of Ain Shams went to vote to find that she had already voted. In Hadayak Helwan, there were more ballot papers than ballot boxes and in Helwan, El-Darb El-Ahmar, El-Zeitoun, El-Sharabia, El-Salama, El-Mattariya the process has yet to still go ahead. In Ain Shams districts., repetition from the previous day of ballot papers not present in some Cairo governorates, employees only allowed 1 hour to go and vote, the reason behind one judge closed a polling station in Old Cairo (it turned out that the station was closed for 1 hour due to a disturbance from one of the voters), judges still turning up late (in one case – Dar El-Salam School the judges left according to Ahram Online because the school is not on their list), and of course complaints about the FJP and Nour Party around Egypt.
On the defensive, Moaz-Ibrahim informed the floor that “we are trying to handle those minor challenges. This was the wrong answer, as more and more from the floor directed their questions towards the violations. Those “minor challenges” one must add that all add up to the final vote, and impact on the public belief that the elections are indeed fair and square. If the violations are not validated, then too those candidates who have committed violations will not be banned despite the law of the Committee that campaigning must end 48 hours prior to opening the polling stations.
A push for transparency from the floor as to what mechanisms were in place to eliminate those “minor challenges” were responded with a L.E.500 fine for those who do not go to vote. What if it was out of their hands, like those who continue to not have their voting papers stamped or signed by judges as is the case in the Cairo governorate in Shubra? The question comes to mind, what is the voting pattern in those areas, and if the issue over ballot papers are connected? Questions from the floor about addressing those hiccups, learning from them, and improving upon them now was responded to with violators will be dealt with by a special committee. However as far as the final result is concerned the die will be cast. The U.S. did it in 2005 in areas that were felt to be not in favour of G.W. Bush, so why not Egypt? Eventually it was stated that violators of the electoral process will be referred to a special committee – one hopes that it will not be a repetition of the trials that were supposed to take place during the summer months. The only thing that has changed since the January 25th uprising has been a result of the efforts of the revolutionaries and the protestors whose downfall was taking the lead.
All said and done, what is good about these elections is that the public is not afraid to speak during the electoral process instead of after. The community/popular committees have maintained their role in ensuring the security of the their communities, and along with volunteers (both male and female), as well as local human rights NGOs all efforts are being made to ensure that voters are informed of the procedures, are protected from harassment, and that violations are being observed, documented and reported. What else could one expect from a people’s democracy! Men have their voting stations and women too, and in some cases the elderly. However the kind of democracy in process might only be an illusion! Once the new Constitution passes without a national referendum, the change that people hunger stands the risk of fading with the newly ‘elected’ president.
Until then, as counting the vote begins there are polling stations without ballot papers, or insufficient ballot papers should there not be a third day to vote!?
The Elections that Led to January 25th 2011…
“Suez Port Employees Reveal 21-Ton US Tear Gas Order for Interior Ministry.” http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/27956/Egypt/Politics-/Suez-port-employees-reveal-ton-US-tear-gas-order-f.aspx