Rights groups list litany of vote flaws

CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election which propelled veteran leader Hosni Mubarak to another six years in office was marred by widespread violations and irregularities that caused confusion and chaos at polling stations, rights group charged Monday.
“Indelible” ink that rubbed off, outdated voting lists, monitors being denied access and abuse of power by Mubarak’s party were among the complaints tarnishing the landmark vote.

Although the irregularities did not have a significant impact on the final result, they threatened to undermine the process, according to the the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession (ACIJLP).

“The centre observed many violations that infringe the constitution, the presidential electoral law and the orders of the presidential electoral commission,” it said in a report. Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) appeared to be the worst offender, although some problems stemmed simply from poor organisation, it added.

Mubarak won a landslide in the September 7 election, trouncing nine challengers with 88.5 per cent of the vote to secure a fifth term amid opposition charges that the process was flawed.

Results showed that fewer than one in four voters cast their ballots.

Irregularities documented by the rights group included mobilisation of state resources and employees for the Mubarak campaign, obstruction of local monitors, and payment of bribes, used of outdated voter lists and unfair access. “One of the candidates abused public money and state agencies to serve his election campaign from its beginning to polling day,” it charged in a veiled reference to Mubarak. The centre said the NDP used public buses to transport voters to the polling stations and obtained the lists of the country’s 32 million eligible voters five days before Mubarak’s rivals.

“Other parties did not have these important advantages,” the National Campaign for Monitoring Elections (NCME), a coalition of four nongovernmental organisations, said in a separate report.

Inaccurate voter lists ensured that many could not cast their ballots or spent half the day searching for a place to vote. “The voters’ lists were not accurate and caused a lot of confusion,” it said. Some Egyptians could not be bothered and simply returned home, the ACIJLP said, suggesting this contributed to the low turnout of 23 per cent. The authorities merged polling stations and changed the locations of others, adding to the confusion, the reports noted.

One of the worst problems involved those voters casting ballots away from their constituencies.

The electoral law states that “outsiders” must produce voting cards before being allowed to vote while those casting ballots in their own constituencies can simply show identity cards. Halfway through the voting process, the electoral commisson directed that “outsiders” be allowed to vote even if they did not carry a voting card, but the information was not properly communicated and judges continued to turn away voters. The decision also encouraged fraud, the NCME said. “It has been proven that [the decision] opened a wide door for manipulating votes, as it became possible for anyone to vote more than once,” it said.

This was made easy by the fact that certain polling stations did not receive indelible ink and used substitutes that came off easily, enabling voters to vote more than once. The electoral commission’s decision to allow local monitors to enter polling stations did not reach all centres and they continued to refuse entry. “Not all judges accepted observers…,” the ACIJLP complained, charging that most cases occurred at polling stations manned prosecutors in the pay of the justice ministry.

Some of these polling stations did not have curtains and this, along with the proximity of officials, intimidated many voters, the NCME said. “The absence of judges in many committees allowed the violation of voting secrecy.” But the NCME concluded that despite the flaws, the election results may have expressed “the will of the voters.”

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