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Wide array of international observers keep eye on presidential polls - Daily News Egypt

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Wide array of international observers keep eye on presidential polls

Daily News Egypt spoke with some of the regional and international observer missions that will be monitoring the two-day process in differing ways, depending on the size and scope of the individual missions.

European elections observers deploy to their posts around the country on Friday. (Photo by Ali Omar)
European elections observers deploy to their posts around the country on Friday.
(Photo by Ali Omar)

Following the announcement of the date for the presidential election, the Egyptian government extended an open invitation for governmental and non-governmental organisations to observe the poll.

The Supreme Elections Committee approved 79 domestic and 6 international organisations to come to Egypt and observe the two-man run off for Egypt’s sixth president.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Daily News Egypt that the invitation to observe the election was for the missions to “bear witness to the fact that these elections will be free and fair and comply with the necessary standards of transparency”.

“We [the ministry] have been providing all the necessary facilitation in order to overcome any bureaucratic obstacles hindering their missions,” said the ministry. “It is the Egyptian people that grant these elections legitimacy, and it is their will that will determine their outcome.”

Daily News Egypt spoke with some of the regional and international observer missions that will be monitoring the two-day process in differing ways, depending on the size and scope of the individual missions.


The European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM)

The EU and the Egyptian government signed a memorandum of understanding to observe the election inside Egypt in April, “guaranteeing freedom of movement to all EU EOM members and access to all polling stations and related sites and bodies and to all relevant information”.

The initial “core team” arrived in Cairo on 18 April and consists of experts charged with analysing the “political, electoral and legal aspects of the electoral process”. Thirty “long-term observers” followed a week later and closer to the election date, a further 60 “short-term observers” and a European Parliament delegation joined the mission. Additional short-term observers were recruited from “EU diplomatic representations based in Cairo”, brining the total number of observers to 150, which includes representatives from the 28 EU member states and some observers from Canada and Norway.

“We are going to be spread all over the country and witness what is happening in the big cities and the rural areas,” said EU Chief Observer Mario David in a press conference last Monday. He said the EU EOM has no contact with voters only with the candidates and their campaigns. He stressed: “The observation of an election is not just the election date,” pointing out that the EOM had been monitoring the climate surrounding the election.

The official methodology used by the EOM in Egypt looks to assess the “political environment and rule of law, degree of freedom of candidates and political parties to assemble and express their views, impartiality of the election administration, equal access to state resources” access to media and the “conduct of polling, counting and tabulation of votes”.

The EU EOM will issue a preliminary report on 29 April and a final report “at a later stage”.


The Arab League

Dr Haifaa Abu Ghazaleh, assistant secretary general of the Arab League, spoke to Daily News Egypt ahead of the polling. She was appointed by Secretary General Nabil El-Araby to head the mission.

The Arab League will observe the polling inside Egypt, but was also in a position to monitor a sample of the expatriate voting that occurred from 15-19 May in 141 embassies and consulates in 124 countries.

“We started the process outside of Egypt,” Abu Ghazaleh told Daily News Egypt, adding that the Arab League monitored polling in 16 countries during the five-day window.

“Inside Egypt we have 100 observers, comprised of 18 Arab nationalities.” The Arab League will observe voting in 22 governorates and began dispatching observers over the weekend.

The Cairo headquarters of the Arab League will be host to an “operations room”, which Abu Ghazaleh will oversee herself. “We will contact our observers four times a day to receive information from their side,” she said, adding that the observers would also be able to have direct contact themselves to report as they see fit.

“This is a huge election, with some 53 million eligible voters,” said Abu Ghazaleh when asked why the Arab League decided to monitor the election. “This is not the first election the Arab League has monitored. We monitor elections upon the invitations of governments,” she said, naming India and Georgia as recent examples.

The Arab League will also produce a preliminary report on the election to be followed by a full report.


The African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM)

The AUEOM announced on Wednesday the arrival of its “short term mission”, which arrived on 16 May. Former Mauritania Prime Minister Mohamed Lemine Ould Guig heads the mission, comprised of “45 trained African Union observers from the Pan-African Parliament [PAP], Election Management Bodies, Human Right Institutions and Civil Society Organisations, all drawn from various African countries,” according to the arrival statement.

A core member of the coordinating team for the AUEOM spoke to Daily News Egypt about the importance of the Union’s mission to Egypt, the difference in running a short-term mission, and the impact Egypt’s current suspension from the union has on the mission.

“The importance of African Union Mission can be found in several AU instruments” said the core member. He pointed to “the Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa” that stipulates “democratic elections is the basis of the authority of any representative government, which should be conducted periodically in a free and fair manner”. The same declaration also “requires member states to ensure compliance through several measures, some of which include holding elections and ensuring participation of its citizens in the electoral process”. He added: “The importance of the AU Observation Mission to the Arab Republic of Egypt is in line with the AU Instruments and in keeping with the mandate of the AU to ensure member states compliance to the instruments.”

The AUEOM member explained the “short term” mission “applies [sic] both qualitative and quantitative method”. He outlined the first part is to assess the climate in which the vote will take place: “The Mission will meet relevant electoral stakeholders in Egypt, including the Presidential Elections Committee [PEC], Political Parties, and Civil Society Organisations and other international observers groups to exchange views.” He added: “Different electoral and political experts in Egypt” have also briefed the mission.

The second part of the methodology is the observation of the polling itself to gather “a sample for [the AUEOM’s] report”, he explained. “The observations and recommendations of the Mission will be based on the fairness, credibility, transparency, and the effective management of the election,” he added.

Egypt has been suspended from all activities within the African Union since 5 July 2013; however, Egypt has been fully engaged with African nations since then to portray what the foreign ministry calls “the true image of Egypt”.

“The AUEOM is an independent mission. The report of the AUEOM comes from independent, fully trained observers from different African countries,” said the core member of the coordinating team of the mission. He said the mission and the report are not linked in any way to Egypt’s suspension from the union, “but purely in line with the African Union mandate to observer election in the continent including countries that are undergoing transition”.  He pointed out that in 2013 the AU observed elections in Madagascar whilst it was “under sanction” as well as in “Guinea Bissau, which currently in the process of concluding its transition process,” he said.

The AUEOM will also release a preliminary statement in the immediate aftermath of the election and a detailed report two months after the election.


The Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD: A coalition observer

GNRD is accredited in a different way to other international organisations observing the election, as it is part of a coalition with International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR) and local organisation Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights.

According to GNRD’s mission statement, it is providing 50 election observers of 15 nationalities, including American, Spanish, British, Norwegian, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian. These 50 will join 10 accredited international experts from IIPJHR, and Maat has approximately 2,000 accredited domestic observers. The coalition aims “to cover all governorates of Egypt to greatly contribute to the transparency of the upcoming elections”, looking at all the aspects of the elections, “including their preparation, candidates’ nomination and campaign, support and opposition activities, voting procedure, implementation during the days of the elections, along with counting process and the results announcement”.

GNRD was also involved in monitoring the January constitutional referendum.

Daily News Egypt caught up with two observers who are visiting Egypt for the first time and will be dispatched to an area of the country, the location of which they were unaware of less than a week before polling.

Miguel Cuñato, who is from Spain, said that he and his GNRD colleagues are in Egypt for 17 days, with the election dates falling towards the end of their stay. “We have to produce our report based on what we see during the elections,” said Cuñato. “We will do a preliminary report to publish and talk about and then one week later we will present the final report to the local authorities.”

Brandon Locke, a US citizen, speaking ahead of the election, said: “What we are doing now is going around doing research for the report, interviewing journalists and NGOs, trying to get a climate of the campaign, of public perception of the election and we are trying to gauge voter education, how excited people are, how much people are ready to participate.” He added: “When we get closer to the election we will be trying to find out how prepared the officials are, making sure that polling stations are prepared and [that] the officials have been trained properly and aware of the code of conduct.”

The coalition will be split into groups of five people, explained Cuñato, including “two internationals, two locals and one driver”.

Locke and Cuñato explained how the observers go about their work on election day: “We use a set methodology to ensure accuracy and consistent information; we have a checklist sheet that goes over all the international requirements for democratic elections,” as well as questionnaires for the officials at the polling station. “We usually ask the authorities to explain the process in detail to us to make sure that they know what they’re doing.” He added: “We use our own intuitions to look out for any irregularities… and make sure everything is running smoothly.”

“We are here to support the Egyptian people’s right to choose their next leader, their right to hold free and fair elections,” said Locke. “We are here to support that right to help Egyptians move down the path towards democracy and part of that is voting in an election.”

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