Violence reported in second phase of parliamentary elections

EGYPT: Violence reported in second phase of parliamentary elections

CAIRO, 23 November (IRIN) – Violence between candidates and their supporters dominated the second phase of Egyptian parliamentary elections, which ended on 20 November.

“The second round witnessed an excessive use of violence,” said Nigad Al Borai, of the National Coalition for Election Monitoring. “Two of our monitors were almost beaten to death.”

The worst incident was the murder of the driver of an independent candidate in the northern city of Alexandria.

Meanwhile, the government and the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood accused each other of standing behind the violence.

“Police immediately dealt with several incidents of violence caused by supporters of Islamist candidates,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of Interior.

The brotherhood’s Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, however, insisted that the government was behind the violence.

“We know the aggressors were either hired by police, as has been done previously, or by some of the candidates,” he said.

An opinion poll posted on the website of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRINFO) on Tuesday asked who viewers thought was behind the violence. Some 53 percent of the respondents blamed the government and candidates from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), while only 7 percent believed the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible.

“This time around, the government and the NDP obviously perceived how great a threat the opposition was, so they resorted to using more violence than before,” al-Borai said.

He added, “The increased attacks corresponded to greater enthusiasm by voters.”

Parliamentary elections began on 9 November and are scheduled to end on 1 December, with candidates competing for 444 seats in parliament. The elections are being held in three phases, the second of which ended on 20 November.

Runoffs for the second phase will take place next Saturday.

“I’m expecting more violence to take place during the runoffs,” said Gamal Eid, of the HRINFO.

Over 1,700 candidates competed on Sunday in nine different governorates of Egypt, including Alexandria, the second largest Egyptian city after the capital, Cairo.

While analysts had predicted that the Muslim Brotherhood would give a strong showing, the group exceeded expectations by winning 40 percent of the 133 seats contested in the first phase. This percentage translates into 34 seats in parliament.

In the second phase, the brotherhood won 13 of the 144 contested seats, 42 of which will be decided in the runoffs. The ruling party, however, only managed to secure six seats outright during this phase, with 112 candidates entering the runoffs.

“The results could have been better than this, had there not been so much intervention and violence,” Abul Fotouh said.

While the Muslim Brotherhood has been officially banned in Egypt since 1954, it continues to be tolerated by the government. Since it does not represent a legal party, however, brotherhood candidates are forced to run as independents.

Election violations continue

“It didn’t seem like an Election Day at all,” said Mahmoud Ali, of the Egyptian Association for the Support of Democratic Development, which fielded 627 monitors for the second phase.

“The security services directly intervened in favour of the NDP candidates,” he added. “Thugs were strategically placed in large numbers in and near polling stations, so as to prevent monitoring and free voting.”

Journalists were also reportedly attacked in some cases.

Hossam al-Hamalawy and Megan Stack of the Los Angeles Times said they were beaten by plain-clothes security officers, who also stole a camera.

On the first day of elections, Ahmed Mansur, Cairo correspondent of the Qatar-based satellite news station Al-Jazeera, said he was beaten severely by two unknown assailants. Media experts have suggested the attack was punishment for the station’s controversial coverage of vote buying by NDP candidates.

In reaction to the incident, Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres stated, “We urge the authorities to see to it that the law is respected and that journalists are allowed to carry out newsgathering in complete freedom and safety.”

Civil society groups also complained of violations similar to those seen during the first phase. In some cases, they alleged, monitors were prevented from entering polling stations by judges, who themselves had been mandated with the task of election monitoring.

“They threw the monitors out of the stations in some instances,” Ali said, adding that some judges had justified their actions by saying that they were simply following orders.

“We hold the Upper Parliamentary Elections Committee (UPEC) responsible for these actions,” Ali added. “The expulsion of our monitors from the polling stations clearly indicates an intention to tamper with votes and ballot boxes.”

No one from UPEC could be contacted for a comment.

Weak opposition

While there are 17 legal opposition parties in Egypt, only a few of the better-established ones have fielded candidates in the elections. Most of these are competing under the banner of the so-called National Front for Change, which was initiated by the Kifaya, or “Enough”, movement in early October.

In this round, the front only won two seats, while they picked up six seats in the first phase. The feeble performance is seen as reflecting the longstanding weakness of Egypt’s opposition parties and movements.

Khalil al-Anany, an Egyptian political analyst, blamed the ruling party for the opposition’s general weakness. “The regime didn’t allow for a healthy environment in which these parties could play an effective role or reach out to the people.”

He added that a secondary cause was the fact that opposition parties did not offer a clear position on crucial issues.

“The opposition would ally itself with the regime on some issues, while on other occasions it would oppose the ruling party,” he said. “This inconsistency cost them the trust of the people.”

Political parties must garner at least 5 percent of the seats in parliament to qualify to nominate a candidate. Independent candidates, meanwhile, must secure the support of 250 members of different legislative bodies, 65 of whom must be from the lower house of parliament, to run.

Given the progress of the parliamentary election so far, analysts warn of serious setbacks in the development of Egyptian democratic reform.

“I doubt that any opposition party will be able to win 5 percent of the seats in parliament,” said al-Anany. “Thus, they won’t be able to nominate candidates in the next presidential election, to be held in six years time.”

He added that the only opposition movement that would probably win the required number of seats would be the Muslim Brotherhood, considered the country’s strongest opposition grouping despite its lack of official recognition.

“The government should seriously consider legitimising the movement and allowing it to set up its own legal political party,” he said, “thus absorbing them into the political process.”