Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tunisia and Egypt: contrasting elections following the Arab Spring

Carla Luis   []

What does it take to have a good election? This not a simple question and neither are the answers. The most common words to describe good elections, in most of the observation reports, always mention the well know expression “full, free and fair”. But what does this tell us and how can we decompose these factors?

Since 2012 the Electoral Integrity Project has assessed all national elections around the world, creating the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity index according to the ratings of electoral experts. The PEI assesses eleven main aspects, according to a division of the electoral cycle: electoral laws, electoral procedures, voter registration, party and candidate registration, media coverage, campaign finance, voting process, vote count, vote results and electoral authorities. 

In the latest EIP Year in Elections annual report, two countries are highlighted as clear contrasts: Egypt and Tunisia. Egypt had Presidential elections in May 2014. Tunisia had legislative elections in October 2014 and presidential contests in December 2014. Tunisia scores high in the PEI index, with its parliamentary contest ranking as the 25th best election in the world, whereas Egypt is one of the countries that “raised more red flags”. In fact, Egypt ranked 117th on a total of 127 countries, achieving a total of 48 points on the PEI 100-point scale.   

What can we conclude from this? First of all, in some categories both countries score relatively poorly: media coverage and campaign finance. As a general pattern, this was reported as a problem worldwide that needs to be addressed.

Party and candidate registration, as well party competition enshrined in the electoral laws, are areas where the two countries differ. In Egypt, some candidates were prevented from running, only top party leaders selected candidates, and some parties were restricted from carrying rallies. Egyptian legal provisions for party competition were unfair, limiting smaller parties and favoring the incumbent. Women did not have equal opportunities to run for office, the same for minorities.

As a sharp contrast, the PEI experts perceived Tunisian women as having fewer obstacles to run for office. Additionally, the current percentage of women in the Tunisian parliament is now 31% (68 out of 217 seats), ranking 31st according to the IPU. In 2012, in Egypt, women in the lower house were only 2% (10 out of 508 seats), and 2.8% in the upper house (5 out of 180 seats). Egypt ranked 142th in the world, the 3rd lowest.

Yet there are some areas where Egypt performed relatively well, according to the experts. This includes district boundaries, the vote counting, and the voting process. Yet if the electoral framework is already undermined in crucial factors such as the equality to run for office,  the satisfactory voting process cannot compensate for the previous restrictions on electoral competition.

When we look at recent updates from Egypt, the Egyptian Constitutional Court has recently ruled the electoral law that defined electoral districts as unconstitutional. This delayed the planned 2015 Egyptian elections, with the parliament still not taking office.

The results suggest both hope and concern about the elections in these two countries from the Arab Spring, following the overall pattern of their transitions. While there is still certainly room for improvement in the case of Tunisia, Egypt remains a serious case of concern to watch very closely.