The Carter Center has released a preliminary statement on the first round of Egypt’s presidential election. The statement acknowledges that restrictions on international monitors have limited the scope of the Carter Center’s mission, making it impossible to draw conclusions about the process as a whole. In addition to delayed accreditation by the Egyptian government, which prevented the Carter Center from assessing pre-election activities and campaigning, monitors were only allowed inside polling stations for a 30-minute window of time.
Although the Center’s limited assessing of the polling process has been "generally positive thus far," the Center cited broader concerns with aspects of the legal framework and electoral system including Article 28 of the interim constitution, which defines decisions by the Supreme Presidential Election Commission (SPEC) as final and not subject to appeal by any party.
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Carter Center Preliminary Statement on Egypt’s Presidential Election
May 26, 2012
The Carter Center election witnessing mission was accredited in Egypt by the Presidential Election Commission (PEC) on May 3, 2012. Accreditation badges, necessary for witnesses to observe the process, were only provided on May 16, less than seven days before the election. The Carter Center mission, which is led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, includes a total of 102 witnesses from 35 countries who visited 909 polling stations in 25 governorates to follow voting, counting, and tabulation. The Center’s witnesses continue to assess the conclusion of the vote tabulation, and will remain in Egypt to follow the runoff election and the post-election environment. This statement is preliminary; a final report will be published four months after the end of the electoral process. The Carter Center mission to Egypt is limited in scope due to the late stage of accreditation, the limitation that witnessing missions could not issue statements prior to polling, and a 30-minute time limit restriction on witnesses’ presence inside polling stations.
Egypt’s first presidential election in the post-Mubarak era marks the first time in Egypt’s history that the head of state will be directly elected by the people in a competitive election.
Due to restrictions imposed on election witnesses by Egypt’s electoral authorities that prevented assessment of critical pre-election phases including voter registration and campaigning, The Carter Center was only able to conduct a limited mission focusing on voting, counting, and vote tabulation. As a result, the Center is unable to reach a conclusion about the process as a whole. The Center’s limited mission found that the polling process was peaceful and orderly and marked by a sense of hope in Egypt’s struggle for democracy. The Center noted an important new measure to promote transparency – counting at the polling station in the presence of candidate agents and witnesses. At the same time, the Center also found that election authorities prohibited access to the final aggregation of national results, undermining the overall transparency of the process. Final results have not been announced yet and the electoral process is ongoing.
The broader context in which these elections were held is a cause for concern. To date, several fundamental questions remain unanswered and continue to cast uncertainty over the continued transition process, including the degree to which the powers of the new president will be balanced by other institutions. While the Center’s assessment of the voting and counting process is generally positive thus far, it falls within this larger context of concerns about key aspects of the legal and electoral framework. In summary, the Center finds that:
- Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration makes the decisions of the PEC final, not permitting objections by any party against its decisions, nor allowing them to be suspended or cancelled. The lack of ability to appeal the PEC’s decisions is a limitation on the right to an effective remedy and administrative appeal. Given the unparalleled powers of the PEC, public confidence in the impartiality of the body is even more essential to the credibility of the entire electoral process.
- The ongoing application of loosely defined provisions of the Emergency Law continues to stifle democratic debate, thereby hindering the full enjoyment of electoral rights.
- The late amendment of laws and procedures pose severe challenges for the stability and credibility of an election process. They also create significant difficulties in ensuring that election officials are trained and voters properly informed, increasing the risk of administrative irregularities in the election process.
- Egyptian law recognizes the importance of impartial scrutiny of the election process by having a specific provision for witnessing by domestic and international Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). This provision, however, is severely undermined by a series of restrictions introduced by the PEC, hindering the ability of witnesses to observe essential aspects of the election process. CSOs are important election stakeholders and if allowed to operate freely can perform key functions such as witnessing that enhance transparency and lend credibility to the process as warranted. Carter Center witnesses reported low numbers of domestic observers in polling stations visited.
- The election days were largely peaceful and orderly. Polling stations visited by Carter Center witnesses were generally accessible and free of interference throughout the two days. Polling stations generally opened late, and a significant percentage closed earlier than the official 9 p.m. closing time.
- Procedural irregularities were at times witnessed by various Carter Center teams across Egypt. These included failure to check for ink, inking of fingers, and the inconsistent implementation of closing procedures before starting counting.
- In approximately one-third of polling stations visited, Carter Center witnesses reported instances in which the secrecy of the ballot was undermined. This was usually due to the layout of the polling station, disclosure of preferences by voters themselves, inappropriate assistance by judges, and overcrowding. In general, Carter Center witnesses judged that the integrity of voting was not fundamentally undermined in these instances.
- During the counting process, in most cases, the presiding judge publicly announced the results of the count to those present in the polling station. In almost all cases, candidate agents were provided copies of the results by the presiding judge. This was an important transparency measure, and enhances the overall credibility of the results in the eyes of most Egyptians.
- Overall, Carter Center witnesses assessed that the quality of the polling process in a large majority of polling stations visited were good.
- The Carter Center made a request to be able to have witnesses present at the PEC’s Cairo headquarters during the aggregation of national results. The PEC informed the Center that only their election officials can be present during this process. The absence of candidate agents, media representatives, and domestic and international witnesses at this crucial juncture of the election process undermines the overall transparency of the election results.
Photo Credit: Carter Center