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Final Phase Completes Egyptian Peoples Assembly Elections

January 19, 2012

Cairo, Egypt – Following the final phase of Egypt’s people’s assembly elections, held January 3-4, 2012, IRI commends the Higher Electoral Commission (HEC) and other relevant authorities for significant efforts in administering a credible elections process.  To date, the elections mark a significant departure with the country’s previous elections and instead signify a historic positive step in Egypt’s political transition.

Elections are a multistep process wherein the pre-election environment, Election Day voting, counting and announcement of final results are equally important.  With the final tabulation of votes ongoing, IRI is hopeful the announcement of the outcome and the seating of the new people’s assembly will occur in a transparent and credible manner, leading to the public’s acceptance of final results. 

IRI noted several issues of concern in statements released after the first and second phases of elections including campaigning by political parties and candidate supporters in violation of the campaign silence rule, the late arrival of ballots to some polling stations, and logistical challenges associated with transportation and tabulation of large numbers of ballots at central counting centers.  IRI acknowledges efforts undertaken by HEC and Egyptian authorities to improve enforcement of rules and address procedural and logistical challenges with each successive phase of the elections. 

In the third phase of the elections, IRI noted a marked improvement in enforcement of rules against Election Day campaigning.  Still, some political parties continued to circumvent the campaign silence period through use of voter kiosks where campaign material was visible.  Enforcement of rules against Election Day campaigning should also address residual campaign material such as posters and other literature left in neighborhoods and surrounding areas where voting is taking place.  Strict enforcement of rules against electioneering inside polling places through establishment of a perimeter around polling centers is recommended in future elections.

IRI witnesses noted a decreased number of polling stations opening late during the third phase due to the late arrival of ballots, which had been a problem during the first phase and to a lesser extent the second phase.  In several instances during the third phase, polling stations still opened late due to the late arrival of judges.  The late opening stations was more prevalent during the second day of voting and is in part due to the enormous challenge placed on judges and election workers to administer a credible process over three successive phases.  Although Egyptian authorities are to be commended for attempting to increase opportunities for voter participation through extended voting, the burden this places on judges and election workers should be given consideration in future elections.  This is especially relevant since ballot counting begins late in the evening or next morning after the second day of voting and when extreme fatigue has likely set in on election officials.

Egypt’s tradition of judicial supervision of elections makes the conduct of Egyptian elections unique by global standards.  IRI acknowledges that the high regard Egyptians hold in their judges contributed to an atmosphere of transparency within the country’s current transitional context.  In future elections, both judges and voters would benefit from more specific guidance on electoral procedures provided in a timely manner by the HEC.  The HEC authorized basic manual on election rules and procedures that was distributed to judges and election workers should be finalized and distributed sooner than was the practice.  Additionally, the HEC should provide more robust review and tutorial sessions on electoral procedures to election workers and judges who are responsible for the administration of the election.

As with previous phases, the transport of ballots and vote tabulation at central counting centers remained an enormous logistical challenge during the third phase.  Although the intent of central counting centers is intended to increase transparency and provide for ballot security, counting centers on the second night of elections in fact tended to be overrun with candidate supporters and election officials leading to chaotic scenes where political party agents and observers were sometimes prevented from entering and witnessing vote tabulation.  In most instances, the transport, unloading and ordering of large numbers of ballots in preparation for counting additionally delayed the start of counting.  Steps should be taken before the next election to sort and count ballots in a more orderly manner either by increasing the number of counting centers and thereby decreasing the number of ballots delivered to a single center, or by counting votes at polling stations.  The latter would require clear instruction and training from the HEC in order to ensure a transparent counting process.

IRI’s witnesses noted turnout for the third phase of elections appeared to be lighter than the first two phases.  As with previous phases, however, Egyptian voters waited patiently to cast ballots on both January 3 and 4.  The enthusiasm demonstrated by voters participating in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections is to be recognized as a moment of national pride for the country and is a positive sign in Egypt’s transition.  IRI noted illiterate voters in rural areas were often times unfamiliar with the ballot, as this was the first time Egypt has used the electoral system employed for these elections.  IRI recommends additional voter education efforts by the HEC and by Egyptian civil society groups in future elections to ensure illiterate voters are able to express their democratic will.

Over all three phases of the people’s assembly elections, IRI witnesses noted the presence of political party and candidate representatives which further contributed to the atmosphere of transparency and inclusivity of the elections.  IRI recommends Egyptian political parties and independent candidates continue to identify, equip and deploy representatives to observe the electoral process in future elections.  Use of basic observation materials by party and candidate representatives will help clarify their functions in future elections.  The presence of these representatives is especially important since under Egypt’s electoral law voting should not take place without representatives present.

IRI will publish a comprehensive elections assessment report for people’s assembly elections to be shared with Egyptian election officials and other stakeholders.

Building on its experience observing more than 135 elections in more than 45 countries, IRI deployed international election witnesses to observe all three phases of Egypt’s people’s assembly elections. 

During the first phase, IRI coordinated with a U.S. Congressional delegation led by Congressman David Dreier (CA-26), who also serves on IRI’s Board of Directors.  Other members of the Congressional delegation were Congressman Donald Payne (NJ-10); Congressman Ed Whitfield (KY-1); Mrs. Connie Harriman-Whitfield; Barry Jackson, Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner; Brad Smith, Chief of Staff to U.S. Congressman David Dreier; and Rachael Leman, Policy Director for the U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee.  Smith and Leman also served as delegates for the third phase.

For the third phase, IRI delegates were led by Constance Berry Newman, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former U.S. Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator for Africa; and Olin Wethington, founder and Chairman of Wethington International LLC and former Special Envoy on China.  Newman and Wethington serve on IRI’s Board of Directors.

Other IRI delegates were:

  • Cole Bockenfeld, Director of Advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy;
  • Fred DeLorey, Director of Communications and spokesman for the Conservative Party of Canada;
  • Michele Dunne, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East;
  • Charles Greenleaf, founding President of the Eurasia Foundation and former U.S. Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East;
  • Jake Hale, founder of CS Advisors;
  • Antonijo Milošoski, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Macedonia; and
  • Agnieszka Pomaska, Member of the Polish Sejm from the Civic Platform party.
  • Matthew Rimkunas, Legislative Director for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham;
  • David Schenker, Aufzien Fellow and Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and
  • Rob Varsalone, founder of Maven Public Affairs LLC and former Resident Country Director in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq for IRI.
IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the missions.  IRI staff were led by Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI ;Judy Van Rest, Executive Vice President; Thomas Garrett, Vice President for Programs; Scott Mastic, Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa programs; and Sam LaHood, Resident Country Director in Egypt.

Prior to each phase of the elections, 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 then 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. 

IRI has also deployed long-term observers throughout the country to observe election related activities such as political campaigns, rallies and elections preparations.  These efforts gave IRI a better understanding of the election environment.