Carter, SCAF and the Egyptian elections

I attended the press conference organized by the Carter Center this morning, featuring Jimmy Carter. The full press release is below, but the basic takeaway word to describer the Center's estimate of the conduct of the first post-Mubarak elections is "acceptable".

President Carter used the word several times, and if you drill down in the details of their report you can tell they have major reservations about the conduct of the elections, particularly the vote-counting (some of this has already been taken on board by the Egyptian authorities, for instance the idea of counting votes inside of polling stations rather than in "chaotic" (the Carter Center's word) polling stations. My impression, talking on background with several people there, is that there were some serious problems with the elections, most of which were due to disorganization rather than malice, and that in any case since most of the Egyptian political class is accepting the results, there is no reason to make a bigger deal of it. Perhaps the biggest note of disappointment comes with the very few seats won by women and the fact that there was minimal effort to secure a better chance for female candidates.

The other amusing thing is that much of the press conference was not about the elections, but rather the post-elections battle between parliament (i.e. the Muslim Brothers, mostly) and the military, and to a lesser extent Camp David. Carter stressed that all of the party leaders he spoke to were in favor of maintaining the treaty, and again chose to stress that the Camp David agreement had two parts: one on Egyptian-Israeli peace, which has been implemented, and another that he described as "a guarantee of Palestinian rights," which he had already said recently both Israel and Egypt had fallen short on (I posted on that yesterday). 

On the relationship between the military and civilians, Carter said that he was given the impression (noted in an interview with the NYT two days ago), in his meeting with SCAF, that they intended to retain some power after the transfer of power to a new president. Here's David Kirkpatrick's Times story from Wednesday:

 

CAIRO — Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that after meeting with Egypt’s military rulers he doubted they would fully submit to the authority of the civilian democracy they had promised to install.

“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF. “I don’t think the SCAF is going to turn over full responsibility to the civilian government. There are going to be some privileges of the military that would probably be protected.”

Mr. Carter’s assessments of Egypt’s political transition are significant in part because his role in the Camp David accords made him a revered figure here, with singular access at all levels of the Egyptian government and society. He was here Wednesday with a team from his human rights organization, the Carter Center, to help monitor the end of the last day of the final round of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster last February of President Hosni Mubarak.

 

However, SCAF issued a statement denying that it intends to retain some power after the transfer of power to civilians, as it has in the past. Carter gracefully accepted their correction, did not appear convinced, and seemed eager to discuss this "misunderstanding."

More coverage of this here: WaPo | AFP | Ahram | Jazeera | Reuters

The full press release from the Carter Center is after the jump, and contains detailed recommendations.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 13, 2012
CONTACT: In Cairo, Deborah Hakes +20 1060379961 or dhakes@emory.edu

The Carter Center’s Witnessing Mission for Egypt’s People’s Assembly Elections Executive Summary of Findings

Egypt’s People’s Assembly elections enjoyed broad participation from voters and are a progressive step toward a democratic transition. While there were shortcomings in the legal framework, campaign violations, and weaknesses in the administration of the elections, the results appear to be a broadly accurate expression of the will of the voters.  However, the ultimate success of Egypt’s transition will depend on the earliest possible handover of power to a civilian government that is accountable to the Egyptian people.  The inclusive drafting of a new constitution that protects fundamental rights and freedoms and ensures full civilian authority over the military will establish the foundations of a democratic Egypt.

Since the departure of President Mubarak in February 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has assumed interim executive and legislative authority in Egypt.  In the months following, the relationship between the SCAF and many of Egypt’s citizens has deteriorated, at times escalating to violence.  The excessive use of force by the security apparatus, the continuation of the Emergency Law, the use of military tribunals for trying civilian suspects, and the crackdown on civil society organizations has created an atmosphere of distrust.  Further, the SCAF’s lack of transparent behavior has created sense of uncertainty about their commitment to full civilian leadership. It is in this context that the People’s Assembly elections have taken place. 

 

Principal Findings of the Carter Center’s Witnessing Mission:

The Carter Center mission to witness Egypt’s parliamentary elections is accredited by the Supreme Judicial Commission for Elections (SJCE). The Carter Center deployed 40 witnesses from 24 countries to all of Egypt’s 27 governorates.  Across the three phases of voting,these witnesses assessed and observed the administrative preparations, campaigning, voting and counting, and complaints processes. Carter Center witnesses met with government officials, political parties and candidates, and religious leaders, as well as representatives of civil society, academia, and media. Carter Center witnesses continue to assess the conclusion of counting and vote tabulation and will remain in Egypt to observe the post-election environment and the upcoming Shura Council (Upper House) elections. 

This is an executive summary of the Carter Center’s principal findings on all three phases of the People’s Assembly Elections. A more detailed report is forthcoming and will be available on the Center’s website, www.cartercenter.org. A more detailed final report of the Center’s assessment and recommendations will be published at the conclusion of the mission. 

The Center assesses the elections in Egypt based on the legal framework for elections, Egypt’s obligations for democratic elections contained in regional and international agreements, and in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. 

The principal findings and recommendations of the mission to date include the following:

 

  • Parties and candidates representing a spectrum of views generally participated in the People’s Assembly elections without interference, despite continuation of the Emergency Law and episodic violence in and around Tahrir Square.
  • Voters were generally able to cast their ballots free of interference and intimidation.  Within the polling station, observers found the atmosphere to be generally peaceful, but at times overcrowded.   Although the secrecy of the ballot was at times compromised, this was usually due to election officials failing to instruct voters correctly on the voting process. 
  • Illegal campaigning on election day occurred throughout the process.  Though witnesses noted a decrease by the third phase, uneven enforcement of the law was a concern for many stakeholders with whom the Center’s witnesses met. 
  • Carter Center witnesses consistently found the counting process to be chaotic.  Judges used different approaches to counting and invalidating ballots, due to an absence of clear procedures or training.  In addition, the publication of results by the SJCE was inconsistent across the three phases.  Despite this, Carter Center witnesses found the counting process to be acceptable.
  • The legal framework for the People’s Assembly elections has served as a reasonable, but far from ideal, foundation for the electoral process.  The election administration lacks the full legal authority necessary to be independent.  In addition, inconsistencies in the legal framework were exacerbated by piecemeal and last minute amendments. 
  • Among the Center’s most significant concerns are those regarding the election complaints process.  Many Egyptian citizens did not appear to know how to access complaints mechanisms, particularly in Phase 1.  In several instances, the timeline of complaints and the remedy granted by the courts (specifically, the rerun of some elections) have extended the election calendar and caused legal uncertainty. Few complaints have been investigated or resolved.
  • The lack of official instruction to electoral stakeholders and the voting public has been a major weakness of the process. In addition, the Center noted that there was poor coordination between the SCJE and security forces, as well as between the SCJE and their subsidiary governorate committees.   
  • The Carter Center has deep reservations about the gross under-representation of women. Women were failed by the lack of a quota for representation, and by the political parties who consistently chose to place women in uncompetitive positions in their lists.
  • Carter Center witnesses observed that, in general, police and army personnel acted competently throughout the election. This observation, however, stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of the security forces toward the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, where the excessive use of force undermined public confidence. 

 

 

The Carter Center’s mission respectfully offers the following key recommendations for future elections:

 

  • Clarify the process for electoral complaints and impose a reasonable deadline for the resolution of disputes: Egypt has all the tools necessary to establish a credible and expeditious election complaints process.  The Carter Center recommends that steps be taken to clarify the process for accessible and timely resolution of electoral disputes. 
  • Complete the procedural framework for elections and train election officials:  Election day and counting processes were inconsistent because of the lack of a clear and complete procedural framework and inadequate training for election officials. This should be rectified by the timely publication of full procedures and training of election officials. 
  • Conduct civic and voter education:  An electorate that is informed about its rights and the steps necessary to exercise them is vital to the democratic health of a nation.  The deficiency of voter information campaigns was notable.  The Carter Center therefore recommends that the SJCE be given a clear mandate for voter education that is established in the law, and that they fulfill that responsibility.   
  • Increase transparency and accountability measures:  Election authorities must be proactive in building trust with their electoral stakeholders and the public.  This responsibility is amplified in the context of political transitions.  A commitment to transparency and accountability at all levels of the administration is essential. Specific measures that should be considered include amending the law regarding the secrecy of the SJCE’s deliberations and, publicly posting count results outside polling stations during the Shura Council elections. 
  • Enforce campaign finance regulations:  Campaign finance regulations do not include any reporting requirements for parties or candidates, or explicit enforcement mechanisms against violators. The Carter Center recommends that parties and candidates be required to fully and accurately disclose campaign expenditures and donations to a regulatory body with the capacity and authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of campaign finance violations.

 

Completing the Democratic Transition 

The People’s Assembly elections are one step in Egypt’s democratic transition.  Maintaining the momentum of the transition to full democratic rule necessitates further key steps, including the following:

 

  • Lift the Emergency Law and end use of military trials for civilian suspects:  Emergency laws are special measures that must be continuously justified.  They should only be used in situations that threaten the security of the nation.  When introduced, they should be limited in duration and geographic scope.  The Emergency Law and the use of military trials for civilian suspects are not appropriate in the current climate in Egypt and should be ended.
  • Ensure the parliament has exclusive authority to select the constitutional committee: The newly elected membership of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council will bear responsibility for selecting the 100 members of the constitutional committee.  The exclusive authority of the parliament, as elected representatives of the people, should be respected. 
  • Conduct an inclusive constitutional drafting process that takes into account the views of the full political spectrum of Egyptian society: It is important that the constitutional committee selected by the parliament be representative of Egyptian society.  In particular, there should be a minimum of 30 percent women included in the committee, and quotas for other vulnerable groups considered. 
  • Protect democratic principles, fundamental rights and freedoms in the constitution:  Constitutions, once adopted, are difficult to change.  It is important that Egypt’s new constitution protects the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians; that it provides for the clear separation of powers; and that national ownership of the constitution is secured through a credible and genuine referendum.  

 

In reference to post-transitional elections, The Carter Center stresses the following recommendations:

 

  • Establish an independent election commission:  The Carter Center recommends that for post-transition elections, a permanent, fully independent, and professional election management body be established.  A clear, consistent, and restructured legal framework is necessary to support such a body. Both of these goals should be achieved through a consultative process.
  • Redesign the women’s quota:  In accordance with international obligations, it is essential to ensure that women are able to participate in public affairs and contribute to public debate.  The Center recommends that a minimum 30 percent quota be introduced to ensure the effective representation of women in both houses of parliament.
  • Remove farmer/worker quota:  The use of occupational categories as the basis for candidate eligibility arbitrarily undermines the right to be elected.  The Carter Center recommends that this provision of the constitution be reconsidered.

 

####

 "Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope." A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.