• 04:17
  • Wednesday ,01 December 2010
العربية

Rights groups condemn election 'chaos'

By-Sarah Carr/Daily News Egypt

Home News

00:12

Wednesday ,01 December 2010

Rights groups condemn election 'chaos'

CAIRO: Violence, polling station closures, vote forgery and restrictions on polling station monitors raise serious doubts about the probity of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, rights groups said Monday.

Magdy Abdel-Hamid, director of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, said that the elections were characterized by “chaos, thuggery and violence.”
 
The absence of monitoring inside polling stations, either because NGO monitors were not granted permits or because accredited candidates’ representatives were denied entry by security forces, facilitated violations, six rights groups said during a joint press conference held at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
 
“Egyptian civil society monitors and observers as well as candidate representatives were repeatedly, and frequently, and I would even say systematically, prevented from being present in polling places as the law allows,” Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.
 
“Only two of the 30 places HRW visited did not report monitoring and candidate representative barring,” he added.
 
Hafez Abu Saeda, president of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), said that NGOs “which have nothing to do with election monitoring such as the Counter Smoking Group or the Egypt Lovers Group” were given all the monitoring permits they applied for.
 
EOHR meanwhile was given only 306 of the 1,113 permits it applied for. Half of these permits were issued at midnight on Saturday for places hours away from Cairo.
 
Abu Seada joked that he would have needed private planes to get the permits to these monitors in time.
 
The Supreme Electoral Commission said that it accredited 6130 observers.
 
Security bodies were the “knights” of this battle from the beginning to the end, Abu Seada told reporters, saying that the SEC “is the reason for the risks facing the election process.”
 
Full judicial monitoring of elections — which was abolished in the 2007 constitutional changes — must be reinstated, Abu Seada said.
 
This year’s elections “witnessed the return” of vote forgery, Abu Seada told the press conference, a violation which had been absent from the 2000 and 2005 elections “when it was replaced with preventing voters from reaching polling stations.”
 
Abu Seada linked this to the exclusion of candidates’ representatives from polling stations.
 
In addition to the absence of monitors from polling stations, rights group said that some polling stations were themselves closed, either before 7 pm or for periods of time during the day despite being required to remain open continuously from 8 am to 7 pm.
 
Stork noted suggestions by Egyptian NGOs that polling station closures, besides disrupting the voting process, allowed for voter fraud such as ballot stuffing.
 
Incidents of violence were reported in several Egyptian governorates.
 
After listing a number of “breaches” in statement released Monday, the SEC said “they did not undermine the electoral process as a whole.”
 
“There were a limited number of instances of violence to which the all-judge electoral committees responded to decisively in order to preserve the order of the electoral process,” the SEC said.
 
Stork said that the presence of individuals with weapons such as sticks with nails, knives and machetes in polling stations “seems to have been with the intention of disrupting the voting process, intimidating voters and in some cases physically expelling independent candidates’ representatives.”
 
The HRW deputy director described the clashes and physical attacks that took place on election day as “controlled violence.”
 
“The authorities seemed to be in charge of what happened, and when,” Stork told reporters, noting that a group of armed individuals marching down the street towards one polling station HRW observed were told by a uniformed official that “they weren’t needed anymore and should go somewhere else.”
 
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, said, “What we saw [on Sunday] was just the tip of the iceberg,” adding that in the weeks leading up to the elections the interior ministry “tightened its grip on the electoral process and Egyptian society at large.”
 
Hadj Sahraoui said that this tightening has taken the form of waves of arbitrary arrests, including more than 1,000 MB members and sympathizers, arrests of activists “in conditions which amount to enforced disappearances, and dispersal of demonstrations by force.”
 
Accompanying this was a “blackout of information, and attempts by the authorities to control messages.” Security harassment of journalists in the run-up to the elections was, Hadj Sahraoui said, an attempt by the authorities to send a “chilling message that we discourage critical voices.”
 
A ministerial decree passed in October, and which tightly-restricted the sending of bulk SMS messages, represented “a key campaigning tool for a number of political parties.”
 
While the decree was overturned on Saturday, this came too late for political parties, Hadj Sahraoui told the press conference.
 
The Amnesty representative called for an investigation into the estimated six deaths which occurred on election day, noting that the authorities failed to investigate the estimated 17 deaths which occurred during the 2005 elections.
 
Responding to statements made by an SEC official that vote-buying is a “cultural issue,” Abu Seada asked why the police can arrest 12 people for using slogans in violation of the law (a reference to the ban on the use of religious slogans in election campaigns) but “can’t arrest people standing in front of a polling station handing out LE 100 and LE 150 for votes? Is this not a crime?”
 
Mark Poulson, executive director of the Euromediterrean Network for Human Rights, questioned the Egyptian government’s rejection of international election monitoring saying, “in a democracy one should be proud of elections and proud of inviting people from the whole world to witness what is going on in a democratic election.”
 
Poulson urged the European Union to listen to the outcome of the monitoring done by civil society, and called on the “United States and the international community in general must raise concerns about what is happening,” linking a deterioration of events to “the absence of the US and EU.”
 
Responding to a question about whether the irregularities monitored during the elections amount to irregularities rather than deliberate forgery, Abdel-Hamid made reference to an Al-Jazeera video showing polling station officials filling in votes.
 
“In order to prove forgery I don’t think that we are required to find incidents of forgery in all 44,000 polling stations. It’s enough that there is a clear indication,” Abdel-Hamid said.
 
Stork added that the authorities systematically tried to impede transparency and correct procedures “at every step of the way.”
 
“Draw your own conclusions about what that says about what went on behind closed doors, about how those votes were counted. It’s up to the government of Egypt to show that our fears are unfounded.”