Egypt’s elections mired by low turnout amid coronavirus fears

The second stage of the elections saw just 30 per cent turnout in the 12 provinces that voted

epa08808614 Election officials count ballots following the second round of parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, 08 November 2020. Egyptians were called to cast their ballots in the second round of parliamentary elections on 07 and 08 November 2020 to elect the House of Representatives.  EPA/KHALED ELFIQI
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Turnout in the second stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections reached just under 30 per cent, the country’s electoral commission announced on Sunday.

The November 7-8 vote for the 598-seat parliament was held in 13 of Egypt’s 27 provinces, including Cairo, the Egyptian capital and home to more than 20 million people.

Voting in the other 14 provinces took place last month and run-offs for both stages of the election are due in December. Final results will be announced later in December.

Ibrahim Lashin, head of the electoral commission, told a news conference that 29.5 per cent of the 31.43 million registered voters in the 13 provinces cast their ballots, only slightly up from the 28.05 per cent recorded for the first phase.

The relatively low turnout could be a reflection of voters’ apathy or due to the coronavirus pandemic, although authorities made it mandatory for voters and election officials to observe preventive measures like wearing masks and socially distancing. Polling stations, under heavy police guard, were also disinfected.

Up to 1.5 million ballots were invalid, added Mr Lashin, but offered no explanation for the relatively high number. At least 1 million ballots were also invalid in the first stage of the election.

Like its predecessor, the new chamber was virtually certain to be dominated by supporters of the government of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, a career army general first elected in 2014 with a promise of stability and improved economy after years of turmoil following a popular uprising in 2011.

The outgoing house offered the government near unconditional support as it pursued a massive drive to overhaul the economy, battle militants and engage in a construction frenzy, including more than 12 new cities.

The ongoing parliamentary election is the third nationwide vote to take place in Egypt in less than two years.

The turnout in both stages is about twice the nationwide turnout when elections for a largely powerless upper chamber, the House of Senators, were held in August. A referendum on a host of constitutional amendments held in April 2019 had a turnout of about 45 per cent.

The amendments allow President El Sisi to stay in office for another 10 years if he chooses to seek re-election in 2024, give the military a supreme political role and the president more control of the judiciary. Parliament’s upper house has also been restored after it was repealed by the 2014 constitution.

The 596 deputies of the Egyptian parliament include 28 hand-picked by the president. Women will have a 25 per cent quota in the chamber, which will have a five-year term. Half of the remaining 568 seats are elected from candidates contesting the vote as members of “closed lists”, while the other half are either party or independent candidates.