Reasons behind modest turnout in Egyptian elections

Reasons behind modest turnout in Egyptian elections

Afew minutes at the polling station is not too high a price for Egyptians to pay to express their gratitude for the policies implemented by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi during his first term in office and confidently vote him in for a second and final term. Rather than competitive elections, the cornerstone of this presidential vote was deliberately designed to ensure high voter turnout. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that the Egyptian media had been heavily urging Egyptians to vote for weeks, participation rate in the election was modest, at 40 percent of all eligible voters according to preliminary indications (as opposed to about 50 percent in the last two presidential elections).
The widespread boycott of Egypt’s 2018 election was not only due, as many rightly argue, to the absence of competition; it was, above all, a clear, well-thought-out message that many Egyptians wanted to send to the incoming president. In my opinion, two major factors affected the voter turnout: How Egyptians feel about the president’s achievements during his first term in office, and the way the election was designed solely to endorse Egyptians’ admiration for El-Sisi.
The president’s achievements are a subject of much debate among Egyptians, and the single point of agreement on this issue concerns the long-term yields of the projects launched vis-a-vis the current deterioration of Egyptians’ living standards. The election was designed to pay tribute to the president by only enabling an unknown candidate (a clear supporter of the president) to masquerade as the sole “challenger” to El-Sisi. The plan was to offer the entire political arena to El-Sisi so that Egyptians could reward him — but they declined.
El-Sisi, who did not offer a concrete program prior to his first election in 2014, had stated that he intended to boost citizens’ incomes in the first year or two of his tenure, then launch his economic reform program so citizens could easily accommodate its burdens. In practice, his economic policies have led to a substantial deterioration in people’s living standards, dampening his supporters’ enthusiasm for endorsing him, while a large portion of Egyptian society has been opposing him from Day 1.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi should take a different approach to the key challenges facing the country.

Mohammed Nosseir

Meanwhile, the Egyptian state’s attempts to attract more voters by running an election with a carnival theme concluded in a few girls dancing to the tune of patriotic songs outside empty polling stations, which were deserted throughout the long voting period (12 hours a day for three days). These tactics, along with the transferring of voters from their respective workplaces to the polling stations, resulted in wasting billions of Egyptian pounds (in a developing nation) on an election whose outcome was known beforehand
Citizens who believed that Egyptians would turn out to vote in large numbers are living in a delusionary state. Politics in Egypt is founded on mutual paybacks between the state and its cronies. The latter ran a heavy advertising campaign for El-Sisi, as portrayed by the large number of promotional billboards and banners erected in his support, wherein each crony displayed his name and a photograph next to that of the president, so as to get some publicity in return. The majority of citizens played no role in this election.
Egyptians today are drawing comparisons between economic and political conditions during the Mubarak and El-Sisi eras, with the results clearly favoring the former. The Egyptian state’s tactic of relying on its flatterers to stimulate Egyptians to vote proved to be a failure. Untrustworthy media professionals and politicians who have been milking our nation for years cannot stimulate ordinary citizens to vote. Some flatterers acknowledged the deficiencies in the ruling mechanism, but urged Egyptians to forgive these unintentional errors and to participate in the vote.
In addition to his clear policy of eliminating his opponents, El-Sisi’s main dilemma during his first term in office has been that he only notices the positive aspects of his mandate, playing down the negative consequences of his political and economic policies, which have impacted middle and lower-class Egyptians. The state, meanwhile, committed a fundamental error by thinking that it could depoliticize citizens for four years and then switch on their sense of political patriotism for a few days of voting, before promptly turning it off again.
Twenty-one million people voted for the president, leaving him with the liability of the roughly 34 million voters who boycotted the election. El-Sisi, who will naturally thank his supporters, needs to contemplate the message expressed by the majority who declined to take part in this carnival — especially since the youth, who account for over two-thirds of our population, was the principal force behind this boycott. These are the key challenges that El-Sisi faces in his second and final term; and he must address them differently.

•  Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.
Twitter: @MohammedNosseir
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view