Historic Elections in Egypt Start with High Voter Enthusiasm

Cairo, Egypt – IRI applauds the people of Egypt who turned out in large numbers and waited patiently to elect the first people’s assembly of the post-Mubarak era.  The enthusiasm demonstrated by voters, efforts undertaken by election judges and the large presence of domestic observers and candidate representatives contributed to the positive atmosphere that characterized the elections and constitute an important first step in Egypt’s transition to democratic civilian rule.

IRI was one of several international witness groups present for elections on November 28 and 29, noting this was the first time the government of Egypt granted official accreditation to international nongovernmental organizations to observe Egyptian elections. 

In the first of a three phase process to elect the Egyptian People’s Assembly, IRI found the November 28 and 29 elections to be administered in an effort of good faith by electoral authorities and other relevant governing bodies.  IRI witnesses did note logistical challenges and several procedural anomalies that should be improved upon by Egypt’s Higher Elections Commission (HEC) in remaining electoral phases. 

The late arrival of ballots to polling stations on November 28 contributed to a delay in the start of voting at many polling centers and the need to extend voting hours.  IRI recommends additional planning for ballot distribution to ensure prompt starting times for phases two and three recognizing the significant logistical hurdles to administering national elections in Egypt. 

While voting day electioneering is a common practice in many democracies, Egypt’s electoral code contains a broad prohibition against campaigning 48 hours before an election.  Accordingly, activities undertaken by parties and candidates on election days, which IRI witnesses noted to include hanging party posters and the distribution of flyers and other materials with party names and logos, constitute a violation of Egypt’s electoral rules.  IRI recommends clearer guidance from the HEC on the 48-hour ban on campaigning followed by enforcement of the campaign silence rule.  The establishment of a uniform perimeter around polling centers to enforce the prohibition against electioneering may help address this challenge.   

IRI recommends improvements to logistical planning for vote counting at district counting stations before the next phase of elections.  Although IRI witnesses noted the transport of ballots to be largely consistent with electoral rules, better preparation for the large number of ballot boxes arriving to district centers at the close of the second day of voting would contribute to improved ballot security.  Likewise, clearer guidance on the close of polling stations and additional efforts to ensure ballot security between the first and second days of voting would contribute to voter confidence in the elections process for phases two and three.

IRI will reserve further comment on people’s assembly elections until subsequent phases and run-offs are held.  Institute witnesses will be present for all three phases and IRI will continue to utilize long-term witnesses to gain a complete perspective of Egypt’s electoral processes.  IRI will publish a comprehensive elections assessment report for people’s assembly elections once all three phases and run-offs are held.

IRI’s 22-member delegation included witnesses from Canada, Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia and the United States and joined members of the U.S. Congress led by Chairman of the House Rules Committee and IRI Board Member David Dreier (R-CA).  Other members of the bipartisan congressional delegation included Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ), Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Mrs. Connie Harriman-Whitfield.  Barry Jackson, Chief of Staff to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner; Brad Smith, Chief of Staff to Chairman Dreier; and Rachael Leman, Chairman Dreier’s Policy Director on the Rules Committee, also joined.  In addition, long-term witnesses working since the start of September contributed to IRI’s assessment of the elections.

IRI delegates were:

IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the mission.  IRI staff were led by Judy Van Rest, Executive Vice President of IRI; Scott Mastic, IRI’s Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa programs; and Sam LaHood, IRI’s Resident Country Director in Egypt.

Upon arrival in Egypt, delegates were briefed by representatives from the U.S. Embassy, international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations, political parties and representatives of the media.  They were briefed on Egyptian election law, and the rights and responsibilities of international observers.

Delegates were deployed throughout the country where they observed polling stations and identified and evaluated strengths and weaknesses in Egypt’s election system, including campaign regulations, the balloting process, vote tabulation and reporting.

Since 1983, IRI has monitored more than 135 elections in more than 44 countries.

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