This Sunday’s parliamentary elections will probably hold district-specific variances regarding voter turnout, with a probable overall dip, analysts say.
“Given the difference in circumstances [between now and 2005], there may be a general decline in voter turnout,” said professor of political communication at Cairo University, Safwat al-Alim.
With a dearth of any real polling and little grassroots research, most politicians and analysts are relying on a mixture of facts on the ground and intuition to gauge people’s inclination to participate this year. These factors will hold local implications in certain districts where competition is fierce.
“Differing degrees of violence, political competition, and financial incentives [for voters] from district to district make it difficult to predict what the actual voter turnout will be,” al-Alim added.
Candidates, for their part, tend to have differing opinions because of what al-Alim calls “their subjective view of elections.” Many Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members think that the security crackdown on their supporters will intimidate many.
Essam Mokhtar, the MB labor candidate from the Heliopolis/Nasr City district says that the elections were freer in 2005. “This year they’re tearing down our campaign ads in front of us, and they’ve just detained 10 of my supporters for no reason,” he said. Mokhtar, who’s running for re-election in the district where the National Democratic Party (NDP) heavyweight, Minister of Petroleum and Shura Council member Sameh Fahmi is running, has just been removed from the candidates list due to campaign infringements. He is waiting for the results of an appeal.
Al-Badry Farghaly, the Wafd Party candidate in Port Said, shares Mokhtar’s opinion that this year will see an increased crackdown by the security forces on opposition parties. He feels however that it may not stop people from voting. “Though [a crackdown] might affect turnout, the young generation feels lost and pensioners feel that their rights were stolen by the current parliament. People have a real desire to go out and change things,” Farghaly said.
From 1984 to 1995, parliamentary voter turnout hovered between 44 percent and 50 percent of registered voters. In the same time span, the number of registered increased from 11 million to 21 million. Turnout then saw a steady decline, and in 2005 it was a meager 25 percent of 32 million registered voters, according to official records.
The 2005 elections also saw the full participation of all political parties, whereas some opposition parties are calling for a boycott this year, such as the Democratic Front Party. The participation of the major opposition blocks, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party, means that the boycott will not likely greatly affect turnout.
“If we all boycott, then the [ruling] National Democratic Party comes out as the innocent party. We want the world to see that the opposition parties in Egypt are interested in making democracy work, and the NDP is only interested in maintaining power,” Mokhtar said.
The 2005 elections took place amidst a rise in political mobility on the street, with protests openly calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. While the continuation of such hype is in question, it hasn’t translated into masses registering to vote and taking to the polling stations.
Interviewed citizens on the street seem to be skeptical of the elections. In the Manial district of Old Cairo, most people indicated that they vote either due to tribal considerations or for financial gains.
“Most people in this district go for the LE50 they receive outside of the voting stations,” Khalid Baroum, a scrap dealer and occasionally a political campaigner for different candidates, said. “No money means no votes,” he said. Some supporters interviewed at a party for Gleid, the district’s NDP candidate and current MP, indicated that they have to support him only out of familial and tribal obligation.
One of these relatives, and a former candidate himself, who wished to be unnamed, said that especially in such a poor district, “you must have money to run. Since Shahinaz al-Naggar (wife of steel tycoon and leading NDP member Ahmed Ezz) ran in 2005, there has been a standing price for votes, and it’s going up. Fathi [Gleid] has no problem paying.”
According to Baroum “in 2000 everyone got LE20, in 2005 LE50, now it’s at least LE50 and can go to LE200 depending on how many you bring with you.”
In this district, financial incentives attract neutral supporters, while thugs and violence tend to repel known opposition. “Sometimes they don’t let people near the station if they know that they support the opposition,” Baroum said.
Al-Alim believes that these elections will be more violent than the one in 2005. “In 2005, voting happened in three stages. It was easier to manage the situation because the elections were spread over three days. This year, it will happen all in one day,” he said. The violence that is already happening between opposing parties, especially the NDP and the Brotherhood, is a bad omen for election day he added. “Expect more clashes this year.”
While al-Alim believes all the indicators point to a dip in voter turnout, he stressed that whether we know the truth will depend on the integrity of the sorting process.
Past incidences of fraud and vote fabrication have made calculating voter turnout in the elections almost impossible. A meager number of registered voters who do not necessarily endorse any of the candidates running in their district make a point to go and mark “no one” on the ballot to minimize the possibility of manipulating their vote.
“The voting stations are much less secure this year. When the numbers are out, we will know how much forgery and manipulation went on,” al-Alim said.