Egyptian 'President-for-life' referendum rife with bribery, coercion, irregularities

Egyptian 'President-for-life' referendum rife with bribery, coercion, irregularities
Egyptians voting on a controversial constitutional amendment which could see President Sisi extend his rule until 2030 have encountered bribery, coercion and alleged duplicate voting, sources say.
4 min read
21 April, 2019
Voters are reportedly being given food packages if they vote 'yes' [AFP]

Egyptians on Sunday participated in the second day of polling for a snap referendum on the "Pharaoh motion", a constitutional amendment which could see President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030.

Many say the vote has so far been characterised by bribery and coercion in an attempt to swell the turnout in Sisi's favour.

The three-day plebiscite is expected to approve sweeping constitutional changes that will extend Sisi's rule of the Arab world's most populous country until at least 2024, where any dissent is dealt with an iron fist.

The amendments would allow Sisi to run for another six-year term while strengthening his control over the judiciary and giving the military an even stronger influence in political life.

The vote has already been mired by accusations of voting irregularities and corruption.

Voters far from their registered polling stations have been allowed to vote in constituencies in the capital where turnout is generally low, judicial sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language service.

Sources in the ministry of electricity and directorate of education said that their respective departments in the provinces of Minya and Qalubyia had hired tourist buses to ship voters, including "hundreds of teachers", into other constituencies.

Those voting outside of their registered polling stations are voting under the names of expatriates, the sources alleged.

As lists of expatriate voters are not stored electronically, checking for duplicate voting under their names would take months and would be difficult to prove.

"There is no way to prove the non-repetition of voting, as the phosphoric ink will no longer be present on the finger of the voter," said a judicial source.

"The phosphoric ink used since the 2015 parliamentary elections is locally produced and can be easily removed," the source added, allowing a person to vote multiple times.

Egyptians have more than duplicate voting to worry about.

Photos distributed on social media show the apparent bribery of voters with coupons for bags of food in a country where more than a quarter of people live under the poverty line. The coupons - marked after voting "yes" - are said to be worth 200 Egyptian pounds ($11.64).

Voters in various districts of the capital Cairo have been provided with free transport to reach polling stations, where they are greeted by representatives of the Nation's Future Party and then directed to carts full of bags food, The New Arab's Arabic service reported.

The bags of food contained food staples such as pasta, sugar, rice and oil.

Promises to supply "yes" voters with food have also been organised through the messaging app WhatsApp.

Other sources reported having been paid by the party to transport voters or persuade them to vote “yes”.

A private bus driver in Giza said he had been paid 200 pounds to bus voters to the polls. Egypt's minimum wage is just 2,000 pounds ($115.74) per month.

A Cairo University student working as an event planner said party representatives had paid event planning companies to supply "dozens of good-looking girls" to help "guide" voters.

A video distributed on social media showed unidentified men berating passengers in a vehicle in an attempt to get them to the polls.

Elsewhere in the capital, others have reportedly been forced to pay to persuade voters.

Shopkeepers and restaurant owners across Cairo told Middle East Eye they had been forced to hang banners urging a "yes" vote in the referendum by security officials who then ordered them to pay for the posters.

One shopkeeper said he had been forced to pay 1,500 pounds ($87.28) to hang a banner in his store. Another had been made to hang up five posters, costing him 5,000 pounds in total ($290.93).

According to some of the shopkeepers, security officials said if they refused, their businesses might be forced to close.

Sisi seized power in a 2013 coup and and was elected president the following year. He was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent of the vote after standing virtually unopposed.

International observers slammed both elections while Sisi's government has been widely criticised for sweeping repression of its opponents - both Islamists and secular groups.