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Can Egypt prosecute 54 million voters?

Egypt’s National Elections Authority (NEA) announced Aug. 26 that it would refer to prosecutors 54 million people who did not cast their votes in the 2020 Senate elections.

The board of directors of the NEA, headed by Judge Lachin Ibrahim, held a meeting Aug. 26 to discuss the “mechanisms to apply the provisions of the Law on the Regulation of the Exercise of Political Rights on voters who failed to perform their national duty and cast a vote in the first round of Senate elections held Aug. 11-12.” The board reviewed the lists of names of eligible voters who failed to exercise this right.

The board said after its meeting that the Egyptian state provided all the capabilities and equipment necessary for voters to exercise their political right and vote in the first round of the elections, and the NEA took all precautionary measures that would protect parties to the electoral process and voters from the coronavirus pandemic.

The public committees, formed by the NEA to follow up on the electoral process throughout the country, had repeatedly stressed the need to take part in the electoral process ahead of election day. Yet still, some failed to fulfill their national role and duty to participate, which led the board of directors of the authority to refer them to the public prosecution to take the necessary action in this regard.

The board referred to the provisions of Article 57 of the amended Law No. 45 of 2014 on the Law on the Regulation of the Exercise of Political Rights, which imposes a fine not exceeding 500 Egyptian pounds (about $31) on voters who did not cast their votes.

Some 14.23% of about 64 million eligible voters cast their votes in the elections of the Senate, the upper house of parliament.

Gamal Gobril, a professor of public law at the Faculty of Law at Helwan University, told Al-Monitor that the commission is merely implementing the Law on the Regulation of the Exercise of Political Rights, which has been in place for years. But this is the first time that the law imposing a fine on voters who do not cast their ballots is being implemented, he explained.

Gobril added that the penal code gives public prosecutors the right to take the appropriate decision in such cases and determine the value of the fine provided it does not exceed 500 Egyptian pounds (about $31). He stressed that voting is a right for every citizen, and they must exercise their right to choose who will represent them.

Judge Abdullah al-Baja, head of the Cairo Court of Appeal, told Al-Monitor that the NEA’s decision to refer voters who did not vote in the Senate elections is not new but is instead an implementation of the law that stipulates imposing a penalty on anyone who fails to participate in the electoral process without an excuse. The public prosecution, he said, determines the value of the fine.

Baja believes that the NEA’s decision is a legal procedure, adding that a penalty must be imposed on everyone who violates the Law on the Regulation of the Exercise of Political Rights. He believes this will push more people to cast their votes in any upcoming election. He stressed that voting is a national right and duty, and Egyptians must willingly choose their representatives.

On the reasons behind the low turnout, Mohammed Hussein, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that the polling stations were located far away from residential areas, making the trip hard for some Egyptians.

Hussein added that the elections are a right and a duty performed by every Egyptian citizen who must cast their vote in order to exercise their constitutional right and pay their duty to the homeland.

Muhammad Sayed Ahmed, a professor of political sociology at El Shorouk Academy, told Al-Monitor that the lack of political participation among Egyptians is not new and has been the case for years. There are a large number of voters who did not participate in the Senate elections due to the economic situation and poverty, he said, adding that Egyptians are busy providing for their families.

Ahmed believes voters felt that their votes were ineffective because of political money controlling the elections, and that was one of the reasons behind their decision not to participate. Also, the expansion of electoral districts — the NEA merged several electoral districts — and the adoption of the absolute list system made it hard for voters to know the candidates, especially considering that there wasn’t much time allowed for electoral campaigns and candidates could not present their electoral program to citizens.

Sayed added that the penalty has not been applied and most likely won’t. This is the first time it is announced in order to pressure voters to participate in upcoming elections, he said. “But I do not think this will change anything as a large number of voters did not participate in the elections and know that the fine is being used as a pressure card,” he concluded.

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