Only 28 per cent of Egypt’s electorate turn out to vote in first phase of elections

Modest turnout thought to reflect voter apathy amid the problems caused by coronavirus

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Egypt said on Sunday that turnout in last month’s first phase of a staggered parliamentary election stood at 28.06 per cent, a relatively modest figure that could be a reflection of enduring apathy by voters in the most populous Arab nation.

Like its predecessor, the new 598-seat chamber was virtually certain to be dominated by supporters of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, a career army general who was first elected in 2014 with a promise of stability and improved economy after the 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 and embarked on a construction frenzy, including more than 12 new cities.

Official figures released on Sunday by the state electoral commission showed only 9.07 million of the 31.71 million Egyptians eligible to vote in the first phase cast their ballots in the October 24-25 vote at home and October 21, 22 and 23 for expatriate Egyptians. Of the cast ballots, at least one million were invalid, according to the commission’s figures. Egypt’s registered voters number a total of 63 million.

No reason was given by the commission for the relatively high number of invalid votes, which could be attributed to a number of reasons, including the complexity of the process or a show of protest.

“The elections for the House of Representatives were held amid extremely difficult circumstances in our world due to the coronavirus epidemic,” said the commission in a statement. “But despite all that, the glorious people of Egypt capably pulled through to show the world that they are able to confront these difficulties regardless of the cost and they went out and cast their ballots in a free election.”

Last month’s balloting took place in 14 of the country’s 27 provinces, including the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest, and the Giza section of Greater Cairo, the Egyptian capital. Voting in the remainder of the country will take place later this month, with expatriate voters casting their ballots on November 4, 5 and 6, while those at home will follow on November 7 and 8.

Final results will be announced in December.

The parliamentary election is the third nationwide vote to take place in Egypt in less than two years. The 28.06 percent turnout in its first phase is about twice the nationwide turnout when elections for a toothless 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.

A total of 596 deputies sit in the Egyptian parliament, including 28 handpicked 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.

The National List for Egypt’s Sake, a coalition of pro-government parties, was expected to win most or all 284 seats allotted to closed lists. Pro-government party candidates are also expected to win the overwhelming majority of the other 284 seats, with opposition candidates likely to win a small number of seats that mirrors their modest representations in the outgoing chamber.