Comparative Politics

A First Look at Egypt’s Election

Dec 6 '11

This is a guest post by Andrew Reynolds.  He is the Chair of Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been an adviser on election design in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Jordan. He is the coauthor with Jason Brownlee and Tarek Masoud of the forthcoming book, The Arab Spring: Political Transformation in North Africa and the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2012).

In an op-ed in the New York Times on November 23, I predicted gloom and doom in the aftermath of the Egyptian National Assembly elections, not because of violence or fraud per se, but because I was pretty sure that the election system cobbled together by the military council (SCAF) would give rise to anomalous and ultimately delegitimizing results. The new election system is an awkward combination of majoritarian run-off seats and moderately sized PR districts, all overlaid by a deeply unhelpful workers-farmer quota. I guessed that under these rules the new progressive and secular groups – those birthed by the Tahrir square revolutionaries, along with women and Coptic Christians, would find it very difficult to break into parliament and the larger more established Islamist parties would receive a sizeable seat bonus.

I take no pleasure in the first vote tallies confirming my fears. A skewed election result poses a huge threat to stability in Egypt and greatly weakens the chances for democratization in what remains the most important country of the Arab Spring. But the evidence from the first sequence of the elections, with voting over the last week held in nine governorates covering 33% of Egypt, including 24 million people in areas that are 66% urban, sadly reinforces my prediction.

The Higher Election Commission has not released official seat allocations for the PR seats (two-thirds of the total) and only four out of 56 district seats available in the governorates that saw voting were decided in the first round but even as the run-off votes begin to be counted we can make a fairly accurate estimate of how parties will share the first 168 seats up for grabs in the Assembly.

Based on vote totals reported on the official website of the Higher Election Commission in the first nine governorates, and assuming that each party reaches the required 0.5% national threshold, this would be the break down of the 112 PR seats up for grabs:

As noted, only four of the 56 individual candidate races were decided on the first round last week. Two went to the Muslim Brotherhood led Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), one went to a liberal independent and the last to a politician from the Mubarak era. The FJP were the first round leaders in the vast majority of the 52 races to be decided this week. They led in 19 of the 28 Workers/Farmers races and 17 of the 28 Professional races. Thus, if the FJP can hold on to their front runner status (and many of their leads were big) they would take 36 of the majoritarian seats up for grabs. The Islamist Salafi al-Nour party led in nine of the remaining races (five WF and four Professional), the Egyptian Bloc in three, Wafd in one, Justice in one, and independents (mostly  former NDP) in six others

It is quite possible that a second placed al-Nour candidate could beat a FJP frontrunner here and there, or an Egyptian Bloc politician could surmount the lead of an Islamist elsewhere, but on balance the frontrunners from the first round are most likely to hang on to their seats in the run-off. If this is true, and the run off races this week are won by the candidates who led in the first round, then the FJP would receive a significant seat bonus over and above their share of the vote (both in the majority districts and PR lists).

If this comes to pass then the first round of 168 seats in the Egyptian People’s Assembly would be shared as follows.

The vote percentages in the table above are the PR district totals where voters were choosing party lists/blocs. The party vote shares in the first rounds of the run-off seat races were much lower, vote fragmentation was considerably higher. When compared to the PR vote share overall the FJP are overrepresented by 11%. All other parties are slightly underrepresented. The numbers of ‘wasted’ votes in the majoritarian districts was huge. Well over 50% of all votes were cast for candidates who did not even make it to the run off.

As this pattern of seat bonuses is likely to be repeated in the next two rounds of voting across Egypt the portents for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi al-Nour party are good, the liberals and secularists not so rosy. Just in the first round the main Islamist parties (FJP, al-Nour and Wasat) have taken over 70% of the seats. The first nine governorates were mostly urban and in places where the liberals expected to do best. The next two rounds are being held in governorates which contain nearly 50 million Egyptians and are nearly 70% rural. Many are considered solidly Islamist areas. At this early stage it is possible to predict that once the election dust settles in January the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP will win a comfortable parliamentary majority (perhaps 55-60% of the seats in the People’s Assembly) on approximately 40% of the popular vote, al-Nour may take more seats in the PA than their vote share would have predicted but they will have to do better against the FJP in the Two Round races. The ‘losers’ in the election system will clearly be the nascent liberal forces which have yet to establish a strong grassroots network that can compete with the Islamists.