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50,650,00 eligible voters in upcoming parliamentary elections

Refat Qomsan, Assistant Interior Minister for Administrative Affairs, stated during a seminar yesterday that around 50,650,000 citizens will be eligible to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.  Qomsan also restated that every polling station will have no more than1,000 voters in an effort to keep polling station congestion at a minimum. My rough calculation of the number of registered voters form the March referendum was 44,995,034 voters, which is not an insignificant difference from the new number.

The voter registry is based off the national ID card, which everybody should have (and which have recently been updated with electronic chips) so the government shouldn’t have that hard a time getting the number right.  I don’t really know of any stories of people being turned away from polling stations from the recent referendum, so the systems has seemed to work alright for now.

Diaa Rashwan, political analyst at the ACPSS, said that dividing voters according to their residential area is a major step, however, the Ministry of Interior also has to coordinate with the Ministry of Health in order to eliminate those who have passed away from the database, referring to the scheme used by the National Democratic Party in previous elections where they used dead citizens’ IDs to vote.

This is encouraging. Sharing lists of citizen data between an EMB and other parts of the government can have many administrative advantages.  Often times, however, the agency in charge of the voter registry is underfunded compared to other ministries and has little clout.  This makes it hard for them to get access to information that would be useful in constructing and maintaining an accurate and up-to-date voter roll.   Seeing as Egypt’s new EMB is essentially controlled by the Interior Ministry, this probably won’t be an issue.

Egypt releases draft constitutional document

Excerpts in English can be found here.

What’s the status of subnational government in Egypt?

I finally have a reason to post one of my photos from Alexandria

Via Heba Fahmy, comes this story regarding the appointment of Adel Labib as Governor of Qena.

CAIRO: Most residents of the Upper Egyptian city of Qena welcomed the decision to appoint Adel Labib as the governor for the second time, while others called for a new civilian governor…

Labib was previously the governor of Alexandria, where residents strongly opposed his decisions and hindered his development projects, according to Mahmoud.

…“Labib will try to prove that Alexandria’s residents were wrong about him,” Mahmoud said, adding that Qena’s residents will also try to prove that Mikhael was the wrong governor for them.

A governor isn’t liked in one area, so he’s simply moved to another.  Imagine Scott Walker getting dumped on Minnesota because they didn’t complain enough!

I’m not going to address the politics of the appointment, or the considerable controversy that recent appointments have caused in the past few months.  But I would like to know:  has there been any talk about changing the system of local governance in Egypt?  Governors are currently appointed by the president, which isn’t an unheard of system, but it’s not very accountable either. (Indonesia recently moved from central appointments to direct elections for its governors, although the execution hasn’t been flawless).

Egypt last held local elections in 2008 and the old rules had them staggered for four year terms.  Local elected officials didn’t have much power (shocking!) although the elections still had some  importance due to the potential impact they had on presidential elections.   (In order to qualify as an independent for the presidency, potential candidates had to collect 250 signatures from elected officials, who could be from both the local and national level).

Obviously a lot of important stuff needs to happen first, and local government elections aren’t considered that important when building a narrative about different factions vying  for control of the country.  When it comes to actually governing the country well, however, local government can be extremely important.  Hopefully the attention stakeholders are committing to the current electoral system will extend to subnational government as well.

Egyptian alliance demands changes to election laws

In Egypt, people still aren’t happy with the details of the new electoral law.  This is a pretty impressive list of players who are unified in opposition:

The alliance refused the law earlier and gave the SCAF and the government two weeks to modify it.

The SCAF law states that 50 percent of the seats will be elected through the individual system and 50 percents through closed party lists, while the Democratic Alliance law suggests the latter system be applied exclusively.

The Democratic Alliance, called for by Al-Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), comprises 28 parties from the left and far right, bringing together proclaimed liberals and Islamists.

It includes Al-Wafd, Nasserist, Al-Ghad, Al-Karama, Al-Tagammu, Labor, FJP, Al-Geel, Al-Ahrar and the Egyptian Arab Socialist parties, as well as the Salafi Al-Nour, Al-Fadila and Al-Tawheed Al-Araby parties….

The meeting was attended by presidential hopefuls Amr Moussa and Hisham Al-Bastawisy, Nasser Abdel Hamid, member of Revolution Coalition Youth, and deputy Prime Minister, Ali Al-Selmy.

What’s truly amazing is nobody knows how the districts will be drawn; that’s pretty essential knowledge for a party that wants to be competitive nationwide.  Of course every party will share this disadvantage, which probably means the major impact of the delay will be to weaken the already fragmented party system while strengthening the hands of local elites.

Egyptian SCAF unveils new electoral system

Egyptian Army council General Mamdouh Shahin announced on Wednesday final amendments to the country’s electoral law. The new system has a lot in common with what I previously wrote about, with some key changes. Under the new system, fifty percent of seats in the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, will be awarded through closed-list proportional representation, while the other half will be awarded in two-seat districts.  This is a change from the draft law the SCAF put out where only one third of seats would be PR.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the extremely low threshold for entering parliament, which was placed at 1/2 of all national votes.

The new law also abolishes the 64 seats reserved for women, which was instituted before the last election in 2010. In its place is a provision that mandates every party list must include at least one female. Other changes in the law include lowering the age for candidate eligibility from 30 to 25, and stipulating that elections take place in three stages.

I can think of three major implications of the new laws.  Let’s start with the new PR tier.  The ordinal tier of seats will be divided into 58 constituencies, which for 252 seats (half of the 504 elected members) will create an average district magnitude of 4.3  That’s not very proportional; combined with the two seat districts this system still looks very majoritarian.   This makes the .5% threshold all the more bizarre.  As far as I know this would make Egypt’s threshold the lowest in the world, even more so than neighboring Israel.  While Israel’s one nationwide district allows for extreme party fragmentation, however, I don’t think Egypt’s threshold will have much impact.  Maybe Egypt’s planners read Carey and Hix’s recent paper, The Electoral Sweet Spot: Low-Magnitude Proportional Electoral Systems.  In the paper, the authors,  find an optimal district magnitude – around three to eight seats – which produces low party fragmentation while still retaining a level of proportionality associated with higher seats per district.  This sort of assumes, however, that the other half of seats aren’t awarded in the strange two-seat districts that Egypt’s will be.

The second, somewhat related point, is the impact this system will have on women’s representation.  Mandating one candidate per list be female is a weak stipulation.  With no requirement for where on the list the women has to be, it will be easy for a party to bury women at the bottom of their lists.  This incentive will only increase in small magnitude districts as it will become more likely that only the top one or two candidates will be elected.

As far as the three stages for elections go, I think this is also a bad idea.  The fear I have with this is it will give parties an incentive to call for a boycott after the first stage if they don’t like the results.  This could have the effect of delegitimizing an otherwise well-conducted election.  (I’m not assuming it will be of course).

The Implications of Egypt’s Proposed Electoral System (Long)

Wafd and Brotherhood form electoral alliance

From my friend Heba Fahmy, comes this story of the neo-liberal al-Wafd Party forming an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Naturally, this has drawn some heavy criticism.

The FEP, headed by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it didn’t want to turn the upcoming People’s Assembly elections into “second class” elections, where political powers force their guardianship over the people through a unified list, instead of having free direct elections.

Al-Wafd and the MB have actually formed an alliance before, in the 1984 parliamentary elections.  At that time, Egypt used a Closed-list PR system with an extremely high threshold; a party or alliance needed eight percent of the national vote in order to enter parliament.   This caused all non-NDP parties to form strange alliances in an effort to simply meet that number and gain any seats at all.   At that time, Wafd was mostly free-riding off of the MB’s grassroots support and the Brotherhood was willing to tell its supporters to cast votes for a disproportionate amount of Wafd candidates.  Given that they were formally banned as a party, I guess they felt this was their best option.

Present day, however, the MB is running under their newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, and will have considerably more leverage in the relationship.   For the life of me, I can’t understand why Wafd would do this.  They are technically one of the most popular parties, but that’s only because support for parties is so low.  (The recent IRI survey placed Wafd in first place with just six percent of respondents claiming it’s their preferred organization) This certainly isn’t the action of a party that, as its leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawy claimed, are the most powerful in the country.   Wafd had already damaged its creditably with its willingness to serve as the NDP’s chosen opposition in the 2010 election.  I’m guessing this will not win them many more supporters.

Egypt’s proposed electoral system

I’m about a week late to this but Egypt’s transitional military government has released a draft law of the country’s new electoral system.  The draft is somewhat short on details, such as minimum thresholds, but the basic thrust is that 1/3 of seats would be allocated through closed-list PR and the rest would use the individual candidacy system that is currently in place.  This means that each district has two candidates and each elector gets two votes.  If no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second round is held one week later.

Photo property of David Jandura

A rough translation of this from the draft law:

The individual candidate shall be elected by the absolute majority of valid votes cast in the election. If the two candidates who gained the absolute majority were not workers and peasants, the one with the largest number of votes shall be declared elected, and a re-election in the constituency shall be conducted between the candidates from workers and peasants who obtained the largest number of votes. In this case, the one with the largest number of votes shall be declared elected.

If there was no absolute majority for one of the candidates in the constituency, a re-election shall be conducted among the four candidates who obtained the largest number of votes, provided at least half of them are workers and peasants. In this case, the two candidates who got the highest number of votes shall be declared elected.

I will have more to say on this, but my main point is the individual tier, as it exists, is highly candidate-centric and will greatly weaken political parties.  In particular, the two-round, two-seat system creates an incentive for local elites to make grand bargains that further undermine an already weak party system.  Two elites, for example, can make a bargain where they tell their supporters to cast their two votes for each of them – a de facto joint ticket.   Those same elites could then make separate deals with weaker candidates.  This would entail a  promise to support the weaker candidate in the second round (should they make it) in exchange for first-round support for themselves.

The nascent party system in Egypt is very weak.  A recent IRI poll shows that of all existing parties, Al Wafd garners the most support with a paltry six percent.   Parties as institutions also suffer from worse approval ratings than state-owned media and the hated business community.  Creating even a small PR tier is a welcome move but I certainly hope the final law will make it much larger than 1/3 of all seats.

Egypt will not use automated voting system for next election

Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is apparently in Smart Village, a PPP town on the outskirts of Cairo.

Al Ahram is now reporting that Egypt will not use an electronic voting system for the upcoming elections.

Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Maged Othman announced in a press conference today that Egypt will not use electronic voting in the next presidential election.

Othman said electronic voting is currently too costly and requires extensive preparation to ensure the voting process is transparent and everyone is able to vote.

Othman also said Egypt will begin manufacturing the machines needed for electronic voting instead of importing them from overseas.

He added that currently the ministry is preparing the voting lists for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The minister also said that Egyptians will be able to vote using their national ID cards both in Egypt and overseas and that Egyptian embassies will oversee the voting process outside of Egypt.

This seems like pretty good news all around.  The ability for expats to vote, in particular is more than feasible and there was no great reason not to do it. I previously expressed my doubts about an electronic election process, but that was mainly when I was unsure of whether internet voting was a potential.   I think Egypt is more than capable of a well-done automated election, but it takes time – more than a few months – to choose a system, ensure it works, train poll workers how to use, etc.

I’ve stated before that the debate over the merits of election technology is largely unimportant. Technology is a tool, not an independent actor. In most cases it amplifies intent; both deficiencies and capabilities become more apparent.  Whether Egypt ultimately decides to use automated machines or paper ballots is less important than how they decide to structure their Election Management Body, and how well they administer their elections.

Egypt reveals new electoral law, stalls on system design

The New Wafd Party

Egypt’s military government announced amendments to the electoral law today, although noticeably absent was any mention of the country’s electoral system. From what I gather the debate is currently between list pr and single member districts although the details of either have been nonexistent.

While it’s nice they aren’t rushing such an important decision I do think they need hurry up if they want to hold the September elections on time.   District creation takes time, at least if you want to do it fairly.   Furthermore, this is creating an unfair burden on political parties who have no way of devising electoral strategies.  If a nationwide, list pr system is adopted this is not nearly as big a deal, but that is unlikely.  Any sort of district creation, however, will force parties to prioritize where they run candidates.

All electoral systems force tactical voting, but Egypt’s fractionlized party system will place an extraordinary burden on voters.  In order to cast a tactical vote, a citizen must know the relative strength of each party.  This allows an individual to avoid wasting a vote on a party that has no chance of winning, while picking the best option that has a realistic shot at victory.  In Egypt, the electoral viability of any given party or candidate in a district will be largely unknown, and the longer it takes to draw district, the less time elites will have in providing that information to voters .

Formal models that predict the effective number of parties, optimal organization strategies for parties, and tactical voting decisions by electors, are all based on the assumption that actors have an understanding of the parties’ strength.  I believe this lack of information will disproportionality hurt secular and liberal parties, while favoring the more organized Muslim Brotherhood.  The reason for this?  The Brotherhood occupies a space on the right of the political spectrum larger than any liberal party occupies on the  left. Tactical voting, in other words, will be a much greater challenge for these voters. Or to use a Downsean model, the cost of obtaining information for a conservative is far less than that for liberals.  It may be the case that Egypt’s military rulers are putting of the decision on an electoral system in an effort to make the election fair.  The longer it takes for them to decide, however, the less legitimate the results will be.

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