The African Union’s Election Observer Mission (AUEOM) has said that Egypt’s recent presidential election “allowed willing voters to effectively participate in the process” but believed it was “conducted within the context of limited space, rights and freedom”.
The AUEOM released its preliminary statement on Monday including observations and recommendations relating to the election, which saw former defence minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi claim a landslide victory over Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahy.
The mission believes that the lead up to the election was marred by the issuing of the Protest Law, which has been criticised by domestic and international rights groups. The AUEOM said the law “undermined freedom of expression and created limited space for opposition parties to voice their grievances due to fear of criminalisation”. As a result the mission said the climate leading up to the election was “characterised by a clamp down on public protests, mass arrests of activists and journalists” and believes this “undermined the basic principles of participation as enshrined in the Universal Declarations of Human Rights”.
The AUEOM did praise many aspects relating to the election days, including what it saw to be the “remarkably high level of participation and inclusion of Egyptian women in the voting process”. It also highlighted the “peaceful” polling environment with observers classing the polling process and the competence of the polling station staff as “very good and good”.
The mission also gave praise to the Presidential Election Committee’s (PEC) “preparation and management of the electoral process were such that it contributed to the overall integrity of the process and enhanced public confidence”. The AUEOM did raise concerns that due to Article 7 of the Presidential Elections Law, which prohibits any challenges to the PEC’s decision. The mission said: “This invariably makes the [PEC] the judge and jury of the electoral process and does not provide adequate space for aggrieved candidates to challenge the decision of the PEC.”
In reference to the campaign process the AUEOM noted that the Protest Law “limited the conduct of public rallies and gatherings for campaign purposes”, noting that much of the campaigning took place through the media. The mission said it could not observe the campaign outside of Cairo and “only observed campaign through the media”. In regards to the media, the AUEOM “noted that although equal access to public media was guaranteed by the law, access to private media remained unequal”.
The AUEOM provided three recommendations for the Egyptian government, asking it to “consider repealing Article 7” of the Presidential Election Law and suggested “establishing an electoral court” for candidates to challenge decisions made by the election authorities. The mission “encourages the government to provide mechanisms for monitoring compliance to campaign financing” to improve transparency. Then final recommendation is for the government to “pursue inclusivity in the electoral system and provide adequate space for oppositions.”
Four recommendations were also provided for the PEC in which the AUEOM called for it to improve the accessibility at polling stations for the elderly and the disabled. It recommended further training for polling officers and candidate and party agents. The final recommendation was for the PEC to “provide civic and voter education” with civil society organisations ahead of the parliamentary elections expected later this year.
The AUEOM will provide the “relevant authorities” with its full report which is expected to be completed within two months after the election.