The decision by the Presidential Election Commission (PEC) to extend the voting process to a third day was slammed by various legal experts, who deem it illegal and say it undermines the legitimacy of the next government.
The PEC decided on Tuesday afternoon to extend the voting process for a third day, in what many consider an attempt to combat the drop in turnout at polling stations over the first two days of Egypt’s presidential election.
The commission attributed its decision to the severe heat wave over the last couple of days and an observation that voter turnout increases during the evening, although “voting ends at 9 pm and it’s difficult to further extend it to avoid exhausting judges.”
The commission also said that it has taken into consideration the demands of people who want to vote outside their designated constituencies, to allow them the time to travel.
But various legal experts said that the decision contradicts Article 10 of the Presidential Elections Law, which requires the publishing of any decision related to the time of the elections in the official gazette and two widely circulating daily newspapers.
Lawyer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Adel Ramadan was the first to refer to this irregularity in the PEC’s decision.
Although the decision to extend the voting process to a third day was published in the official gazette Wednesday morning, Ramadan said that the PEC’s decision was implemented before publishing.
“If I was a judge at a polling station and I received a phone call Tuesday night ordering me not to start counting the votes because voting had been extended, I would ask about publishing in the official gazette. If not published, I would start the vote count,” Ramadan explained.
Professor of Constitutional Law at Cairo University Raafat Fouda also told Mada Masr that such decisions should only be implemented after publishing them in the official gazette.
Fouda explained that it would have been more legally sound if the extension was declared prior to holding the elections.
Lawyer and chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights Hafez Abu Seada reiterated Ramadan’s criticism.
Although the law gives the PEC the privilege of holding the elections over more than one day, extending the voting during the process itself is different and many say illegal.
“Elections are organized in all countries with preset rules and regulations and cannot be changed during the elections themselves,” Seada said.
The campaigns of both candidates Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi officially refuted the PEC’s decision, but the committee declined to accept their objections.
A source in the commission told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the candidates objections are “a game of politics,” adding that it’s not sensible for the commission to consult with candidates before making such decisions.
The source also wondered why “none of them objected when voting abroad was extended.”
The election observation mission of Democracy International (DI) said that the extension “raises more questions about the independence of the election commission, the impartiality of the government, and the integrity of Egypt’s electoral process.”
“Last-minute decisions about important electoral procedures, such as a decision to extend polling by an additional day, should be made only in extraordinary circumstances,” said President of DI Eric Bjornlund.
DI added in an official statement that the extension comes amid a series of “unusual steps” that have “seriously harmed the credibility of the process.”
A source in the European Union Election Observation Mission told Mada Masr that the extension is legal and that the PEC has a special decree allowing it to extend the voting. The source added that the extension is due to the low turnout.
Addressing concerns raised by Sabbahi’s campaign concerning fraud and irregularities as a result of the extension, the source said it is widely believed that Sisi will probably win the vote anyway.
But according to the Presidential Elections Law, all the PEC’s decisions are absolute and cannot be appealed in front of the judiciary.
Fouda suggested that such legal immunity indicates the PEC is not concerned with the law or the constitution.
“All these legal concerns that experts and regular Egyptians have will hit a wall in the face of the legal immunity given to the PEC. It places the committee outside the law and makes the process of evading legality easier,” Fouda said.