Egypt Braced for Final ‘Free and Fair’ Results
Ballots are being counted in the nine governorates that took part in the initial round of voting in the country’s first free and fair elections. Final results are set to be announced this evening.
Turnout in Cairo may have been as high as 80%, while other areas averaged between 50% and 65%. These figures are thought to include an extremely high number of Coptic Christians and women; two groups which are typically underrepresented.
Many people were voting for the first time. “Last time I didn’t vote because my vote didn’t matter. We knew before the election who would win,” said Fatima Abdullah*, a student of engineering at Cairo University, referring to Hosni Mubarak’s now-disbanded National Democratic Party. “This time I have voted, because in the new Egypt my opinion matters”, she continued, proudly displaying an ink-stained finger.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) appear to have taken a sizable share of the vote, as expected, with estimates currently hovering at about 40%. This is despite the fact that the governorates which participated in this round of voting are arguably the most liberal, indicating the possibility of an even higher margin of victory for the FJP in other, more conservative, areas.
Already extremely popular, they are running a particularly effective “Get Out the Vote” campaign. Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, tweeted that a MB activist told him that the leadership has asked each member to bring 100 people to vote. They have also been the main target of appeals lodged with Egypt’s National Human Rights Council, for infractions including campaigning at polling stations and using religious slogans.
Barring problems of disobedience like this, and several instances of judges being held hostage by impatient voters, the election thus far appears to have gone far more smoothly than expected. While analysts quietly braced for the entire system to implode, the two-day process went off without major incident, leading Major General Ismail Etman of the ruling military council to compare SCAF’s handling of the event to their prowess in the 1973 war with Israel: “When we plan, we execute and, at the end, we succeed. The armed forces pulled off this election like they pulled off the crossing in 1973”.
While this relatively tranquil beginning is grounds for cautious optimism, it is important to remember that this is merely the first hurdle in what is likely to be a long and arduous journey towards free and democratic rule in Egypt.
Firstly, the SEC needs to ensure that the teething problems of the first days are not repeated in the next three months of parliamentary elections in order to reassure the electorate of it’s commitment to a fair and transparent electoral process.
Results are likely to be contested, due to either accusations of rule violations, or misunderstandings regarding the way the complicated electoral system converts votes into seats. (For more details, read my earlier piece on Egypt’s complicated electoral system here.) The new parliament will have to persuade many of its legitimacy before it can rule effectively.
Even more of a challenge will be wresting real power from the armed forces, who appear to be overseeing a facelift transition process, rather than a full-blow surgical transformation of Egypt’s political landscape.
The parliament, when formed, will have no clear mandate, and SCAF have taken pains in recent months to expand and entrench their powers to such an extent that it could be difficult to force them back to their barracks when the time comes.
They are insisting on withholding the right to choose the Prime Minister from the future democratically elected Parliament, and are still set to appoint 80 of the 100 members of the soon-to-be-formed constituent assembly; the body charged with writing a new constitution. They also wish to deny parliament the right to oversee the military budget, and formally codify their own right to interfere in political life.
The Brotherhood are already alluding to their intention of reducing the political role of the armed forces, if they win control of the legislature. They are using as their justification the legitimacy granted any parliament by the high voter turnout. A leader of the FJP, Essam el-Erian stated, “Millions of Egyptians voted because they wanted a strong, democratic Parliament”.
This sentiment is undoubtedly true. While protests in Tahrir square have lost momentum for the moment, they will be sure to pick up again if the military does not allow an elected parliament to exercise its rightful powers. At the present time the majority of the population appears to have faith in the process, and will continue to watch avidly as election results are announced, tonight, and over the coming months.