Turnout low in Egypt's long-awaited parliamentary election

Turnout low in Egypt's long-awaited parliamentary election
Apathy and frustration characterised elections held Sunday for Egypt's first legislature in more than three years, a chamber widely expected to be a rubber stamp parliament.
4 min read
19 October, 2015
Many Egyptian voters have shunned the first phase of a parliamentary election that Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi has hailed as a milestone on the road to democracy but his critics have branded as a sham.

Experts have pointed to a turnout of around ten percent of mostly elderly voters, in sharp contrast to the long lines that formed in the 2012 election, suggesting that Sisi is losing popularity.


All the candidates we have to choose from are useless Mubarak-era characters only interested in personal gain

- Shaimaa Maaly

"All the candidates we have to choose from are useless Mubarak-era characters only interested in personal gain. I feel like we are going back five years into the past," 25-year-old Shaimaa Maaly told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"I don't even have the day off work, how am I supposed to go and vote?," added the customer services agent.

"I'll be staying at home taking care of my kids and cooking instead of going to vote in these sham elections," said housewife Safaa Gad.

Gad added that everyone already knew the results of the election and that her vote would not make a difference.

"Egyptians are convinced these elections are a return to the Mubarak-era 2010 parliamentary elections, which took place just before the 2011 uprising," political researcher Yusri al-Ezbawi told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service.

"The next parliament is in danger of being discredited if the current turnout of less than ten percent continues," Ezbawi added.

A media researcher said the majority of young people taking part in the elections are from less wealthy segments of society and are mainly looking to obtain hand-outs from candidates.

On Sunday afternoon, the spokesman for the High Elections Committee, Omar Marwan, said that only around one percent of voters had cast their ballots, according to al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service.

Egypt has had no parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the democratically-elected main chamber, then dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, reversing a key accomplishment of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

      Security forces guard a polling station in Giza [Getty]
In 2013 Sisi, then army chief, overthrew Egypt's first freely-elected president in 2013, the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, then launched the fiercest crackdown on dissent in Egypt's modern history. Human rights groups say Egypt has about 40,000 political prisoners, many of them supporters of Morsi.

On paper, the new parliament will have wide ranging powers. It can reject the president's choice for prime minister or even impeach the president. But with Muslim Brotherhood leaders and youth activists behind bars, critics doubt it can provide checks and balances.

The vote for the much-delayed 596-member parliament is being staged in two phases ending on December 2, with Egyptians abroad casting their votes for the first round from Saturday.

But with an absence of opposition parties - including the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood - polling has inspired none of the enthusiasm witnessed for Egypt's first democratic elections in 2011.

The first day of elections day had a smooth start amid tight security.

In the only reported act of violence unidentified assailants opened fire from a four-wheel drive vehicle, shooting at security forces deployed at a polling station in Giza, according to state-run al-Ahram.

Sisi urges vote

In a television address on Saturday, Sisi called on Egypt's 55-million-strong eligible voters to cast their ballots.

"Celebrate the choice of representatives and make the right choice," he said.

"I am expecting Egyptian youth to be the driving force in this celebration of democracy."

Pro-government televangelist Ahmad Omar Hisham also called on voters cast their ballots because "abstaining from voting is the same as not praying".

Ayman Abbas, head of the High Elections Committee said on Sunday that registered voters who do not show up to vote will be fined 500 Egyptian pounds ($63) in accordance with the Political Rights Law.

A source in the High Elections Committee told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service that in reality the fine was impossible to implement because of the logistics involved in enforcing the law on the millions of people not voting.

In the 2012 presidential elections, which Sisi won with 96 percent of the vote, 52 percent of Egyptians chose to abstain from heading to the polls.

Of the 596 lawmakers being elected, 448 will be voted in as independents, 120 on party lists, and 28 will be presidential appointees.

The main coalition, the pro-Sisi For the Love of Egypt, includes leading businessmen and former members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. It aims to win two-thirds of the seats.

The openly pro-Sisi Salafist al-Nour Party that backed Morsi's ouster is the only Islamist party standing.

Any run-off in the first phase of the two-stage election will be contested on October 27-28. The second phase starts on November 21.