By Ayman Okeil
The first phase of the Egyptian parliamentary elections ended but its implications and repercussions are not over yet. The societal debate about its positives and negatives will remain in place for weeks to come at least. The most important thing is that this debate is free of traditional accusations that characterised the elections prior the 25 January Revolution in 2011.
The state’s biases and its interventions and the facts of fraud and systematic manipulation are no longer the subject of criticism, especially since the revolution watershed such practices.
The controversial point now is the behaviour of candidates and the impact of irregularities committed by many of them on the electoral results. The most important point is the low turnout rates during the first phase, with only 26% turnout of all potential voters, according to the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC).
It is very low turnout, compared to the presidential elections in May 2014 or the parliamentary elections held by in 2012. However, it is much higher than the rates before the 25 January Revolution. This opened the door to a community debate over the justifications and the motives of that meagre participation. Did voters boycott the elections? Or are there other motives than political justifications?
Let us recognise that the turnout and participation rates were very low and they are not commensurate with the importance of the next parliament or the requirements of this delicate phase in Egypt. Considering the low turnout is a result of a boycotting campaign is illogical and contradicts several objectives, undermining the basis of this proposal.
The first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections saw partisan participation with 44 political parties in the electoral process and candidates competing for the individual and list seats. Most parties were formed following the 25 January Revolution and many oppose the current regime. Parties’ candidates accounted for more than 34% of the total number of candidates during the first phase and parties won over 50% of the seats.
Previous figures clearly indicate that the political forces and party actors, except for those of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not boycott the elections or call for a boycott campaign. Therefore, the low turnout was not the result of political action and cannot be defined as boycotting. It is simply an Egyptian reluctance to participate in the elections, a behaviour which will take a relatively long time to change, and will need double effort of from political parties, the media, and civil society organisations to raise awareness and motivate people to get involved.
The low participation is due the negative role played by the media prior to the elections. There was a clear shortage in raising the issue of the parliamentary elections to their importance and the media was often more interested in other trivial issues.
Low participation in the elections overshadowed other positive features witnessed during the first phase of the elections. For the first time in many years, five women won individual seats without the application of quota. Three Coptic Christians also won seats in districts crowded with Muslims.
The rise of women and Copts in the first phase of the Egyptian parliamentary elections carries positive signs that a significant change has occurred in the attitudes and motivations of Egyptians voters. The chain of sectarianism and bias against women is close to breaking, taking into account that women and Copts won seats in poor traditional districts.
Ayman Okeil is the General Manager of Cairo-based NGO, the Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights