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Election Report: Egyptian Parliamentary Elections

- January 24, 2012

We are currently in the process of formalizing a relationship with Electoral Studies, an academic journal, to have authors who write for the very useful “Notes on Recent Elections” section of the journal also contribute pre-election and/or post-election reports to the Monkey Cage’s Election Reports feature. I’ll have more on this as it develops, and readers (and potential writers!) should be clear that you can still contribute to the Election Reports feature here even if you are not doing anything for Electoral Studies. However, it should help bring us additional content at the Monkey Cage. With that in mind, the following post-election report on the historic Egyptian Parliamentary Elections was written by Mazen Hassan, who is a lecturer of Comparative Politics at Cairo University, where he specializes elections, party systems and institutional design in new democracies. Hassan will be writing the Electoral Studies Note for this election, but for now here are his initial thoughts:

Egypt has just concluded its first post-Mubarak parliamentary election. After a lengthy process that stretched over 7 weeks, involved three stages and 12 polling days in total, the official results were finally announced on January the 22nd. As expected, no party came out with an outright majority. The party with the plurality of seats however – also not surprisingly – was the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The electoral alliance it led won 47% of seats (235 out of the 498 contested seats – with only 22 seats of those won by the other parties in the alliance).

The surprise, however, has been the party that came second. With 24.3% of seats, a newly founded party – called Al-Nour – representing the Salafi movement and commonly characterized as an even more conservative Islamist party than the Muslim Brotherhood, managed to push liberal parties to the third and fourth places and possibly preventing FJP from gaining a majority by splitting the Islamist votes. Two liberal parties came third and fourth; Wafd and Free Egyptians, obtaining 7.8% and 7% respectively. Their performance has been largely disappointing to liberal voters.

The electoral system applied represented a strong break with the past. Egyptian elections have typically been governed by a majoritarian system in two-member constituencies (222 in total). The newly adopted electoral system is a mixed parallel one, which reserves one third of the lower house’s 498 seats to be contested by a majoritarian two-round system in 83 two-member constituencies (166 such seats in total). The remaining two thirds (332 seats) are contested by a PR formula, using largest remainder with Hare quota. District magnitude ranged between 4 and 12 seats and a national threshold of 0.5% of nationwide votes was applied.

The majoritarian seats have been more or less a two-horse race between the two big Islamist parties. Of those 166 seats, FJP got 108 seats, Al-Nour got 27 – together gaining 81% of such seats. The fact that independent won 23 such seats means that the share of other parties of those seats was less than 5%.

Turnout has been around 60%, dropping significantly however where a run-off was held for majoritarian seats. Different and sometimes contradicting turnout figures have been published by the Electoral Commission. The reason is that the whole country did not vote on one day, but rather each one-third had its own ‘voting stage’ to allow for complete judicial supervision over the voting process. Moreover, the fact that each ‘voting stage’ had two polling days and also possibly a run-off for the majoritarian seats where no candidate got 50%+1 in the first round (also held over 2 polling days), complicated the announcement of figures even further.