Egypt is set to hold its parliamentary polls later this month to elect 568 lawmakers for a five-year term, more than two months after the election of a reinstated Council of Senators.
The August election of the Senate, an advisory body without legislative powers, was tarred by voter apathy as only 14.2 per cent of 63 million eligible voters cast a ballot.
According to observers, turnout is not likely to increase significantly in the upcoming parliamentary polls, set to take place in two stages: on October 24-25 in 14 provinces in southern Egypt and Nile Delta and on November 7-8 in the 13 remaining provinces, including Cairo.
A run-off for the first stage is scheduled on November 23-24, and for the second stage on December 7-8.
“The scene in the upcoming polls will not differ a lot from the circumstances that surrounded the Senate election,” Ammar Ali Hassan, a political expert and writer, told dpa.
He added that turnout could increase a bit because of the parliamentary candidates’ financial ability to mobilize voters and attract supporters.
Hassan said voter turnout will not return to the levels seen in the elections that followed the 2011 uprising that ousted long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The 2012 parliamentary vote, which led the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate the legislature for the first time ever, saw a 56-per-cent turnout.
The country’s electoral commission had repeatedly vowed to enforce a law penalizing any boycotter with a fine of up to 500 Egyptian pounds (32 dollars) in a bid to drive more people to cast their ballots.
In response to the low turnout in the Senate vote, the commission said at the time that it would refer to prosecutors about 54 million people who did not vote. However, there have been no trials.
“Talk about imposing fines to push voters to cast their ballots has lost its seriousness,” Hassan said.
The recent Senate election was dominated by the Nation’s Future Party which won 147 of the 300 seats in the Senate, two thirds of which are elected by public vote and the remaining 100 are appointed by the president.
The party is leading a list that includes 11 other political parties in the parliamentary elections, in which than 4,500 candidates are running for 284 seats in the individual system and another 284 from the closed list system.
Critics are also concerned that the upcoming elections will again be dominated by a political party loyal to the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.
Referring to the previous parliament, which was dominated by al-Sissi’s loyalists, Hassan said the legislature disappointed the expectations of Egyptians, which will also affect their desire to cast their ballots in the upcoming polls.
“The parliament passed a number of laws that people were not satisfied with,” he said. “There were laws that did not take enough time of debate.”
In June 2017, the parliament gave its approval to a controversial plan to transfer sovereignty of two largely uninhabited islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. The move sparked rare protests in Egypt, with demonstrators accusing the president of “selling” the islands in return for Saudi aid.
“I will not cast my ballot in the polls,” said Mostafa Mahmoud, a 37-year-old engineer. “Over the past years, I have not seen any lawmaker who helped in solving a problem in our neighbourhood. I do not know any candidate.”
In recent years, al-Sissi’s government also introduced cuts to energy subsidies amid austerity measures linked to a 12-billion-dollar bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.
The measures, which included the flotation of the local currency and raising taxes, have left many Egyptians struggling to make ends meet, as they have long relied on state subsidies for basic products.