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In Egypt and Congo, Questions of Election Legitimacy Remain

November 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Millions of Africans voted Tuesday in two very different elections. Margaret Warner discusses elections in Egypt and Congo with The International Republican Institute's Scott Mastic, who's leading an election monitoring team in Cairo, and Soloman Moore of The Wall Street Journal, reporting from Congo's capital of Kinshasa.
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MARGARET WARNER: For more on the Egypt balloting, we go to Scott Mastic in Cairo. He’s director of the International Republican Institute’s Middle East and North Africa program and heads an observer team monitoring the elections.

And, Scott Mastic, thank you so much for being with us.

You have had members of your team out in lots of polling places for the last two days. On balance, what’s your assessment of how it’s gone?

SCOTT MASTIC, International Republican Institute: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to join you tonight on what was really a second historic day for Egypt.

We have had observers out both days. And what we have noted since the start of the day yesterday is really an unprecedented level of enthusiasm among voters to take part in this process and what we see as an important effort on the part of the election workers to try their very best to administer the process in a fair manner.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there have been reports of some problems at different polling places. What have you all observed or had credible reports of?

SCOTT MASTIC: Sure.

Well, you know, I think it’s important to provide a little bit of context here. This really is the first democratic election Egypt has ever held. What we saw both days was large numbers of people showing up to vote. And just the night before the election started, there was great uncertainty about what would happen on the day of the election.

A number of judges that I talked to administering this process actually expressed to me that they were afraid of what would happen the night before. So, the fact that so many people turned out thus far and that the mood is so overwhelmingly positive, I think, is important to sort of couch the election in what is this first phase.

There were a number of places that opened late on the first day. That was largely because ballots arrived very close to the start time. In a couple of instances, there were political party supporters out campaigning in a way that the Egyptian law doesn’t allow. But, again, for this being a first democratic election in the country, I think that Egypt is off to a pretty positive start, especially when you consider what was going on here just last week.

MARGARET WARNER: And how is the superior organizational muscle of the leading Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, Freedom and Justice? I gather that’s really been quite on display at these polling places. What can you tell us about that?

SCOTT MASTIC: Yes.

You know, in the different polling centers visited by our witnesses, we noted that there was a Freedom and Justice Party presence at most of them, including with party agents that were inside polling stations, which is allowed under the Egyptian code, and also outside interacting with voters.

So based on that, what we saw was what appears to be a great deal of organization for the election by the Freedom and Justice Party. Other parties were also out. We noted a number of other parties doing — observing with party agents, interaction with voters outside, assistance to their voters to tell them where to vote. But, definitely, among the parties, the most prevalent that we saw was the Freedom and Justice Party. 

MARGARET WARNER: Now, there seems to be some suspicion — at least, we have read reports of it — caused by the long lag time between this very first voting in one part of the country and when the final makeup of the lower house is known in really mid-January.

What are the opportunities for fraud or manipulation of the vote tabulating that you all will be on the lookout for? Who is — who is in charge? How secure are the ballot boxes?

SCOTT MASTIC: Sure.

MARGARET WARNER: How secure is the whole process going forward from today?

SCOTT MASTIC: Sure.

Well, you know, I just came from a district counting center, and witnessed firsthand the arrival of ballots there. They came on buses with election workers on the buses. As a means to ensure that there was ballot security, during the movement of them, they were escorted by the military to the district counting place that I saw.

And now the process of counting gets under way, which is obviously a critical part of the process going forward in a positive fashion. There a long time that will pass before there is ultimately a result to this election. At the same time, though, the country will continue to go through different parts of this election from now until the end of January.

So it’s not as if the vote was today, and then there’s a long lag time with no elections. The system that Egypt is using is a bit complex, but there’s a history here of judicial supervision of elections. And there’s simply not enough judges to hold the election in one day.

My understanding is, after the counting tonight, they will move ballots to a governor at counting centers — or a governor at holding centers. Those ballots are under the supervision of Egypt’s election commission. And I think we have to see what happens with the counting process, how it transpires.

Obviously, with the overwhelming interest in taking part in the elections, Egyptians now are enthusiastic. And I think that raises the level of hope and expectation that the counting will go well. And so I hope that’s the case.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Scott Mastic of the International Republican Institute, thank you so much.

SCOTT MASTIC: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

MARGARET WARNER: Now to voting in Congo.

For that story, we turn to Solomon Moore, East Africa correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. He joins us by telephone from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.

And, Solomon Moore, thank you for joining us.

Tell us how the voting went today. Was there the same degree of violence that you saw yesterday?

SOLOMON MOORE, The Wall Street Journal: The voting today was a little calmer. We didn’t hear as many reports of violence as we did on the first day.

The crowds, of course, were much more thinned out today than yesterday. But, today, you had another element kind of entering into the poll, with four opposition candidates coming forward and saying that the results should be voided. And this is before they would be announced on Dec. 6.

MARGARET WARNER: What evidence has there been of outright fraud?

SOLOMON MOORE: Well, various opposition candidates have come forward with ballots that were filled out even before the vote took place yesterday.

There were allegations that there were trucks full of fraudulent ballots, there were ghost polling stations, polling stations that were supposed to be set up, but that were not. There have been allegations by human rights groups that backers of Kabila in the east were holding ballots captive and only allowing Kabila supporters to vote.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, amidst all this, what appears to be the mood of the voters, people you have been able to talk to?

SOLOMON MOORE: A lot of exuberance mixed with frustration.

You have voters yesterday going out to the polls on time, only to find out that the polling stations were not set up yet. I even saw voters chiding election officials on their tardiness — but huge crowds, lots of people going out, standing in line, standing in the mud, standing in the rain, getting to their polling stations, a lot of them being turned away from polling stations because their names were not on the rolls, and going from polling station to polling station, trying to find a way to vote.

MARGARET WARNER: And given what some of the opposition candidates have been saying and the political climate there, how do you assess the prospects for the results being regarded as legitimate?

SOLOMON MOORE: That is the question here.

The opposition has been chipping away at that credibility with allegations of widespread fraud for the past two days. And even before the vote began, there were questions about the legitimacy of the vote because of how badly organized the election was. They were getting the polling boxes out across the country all the way up until the vote.

So, obviously, there are going to be questions about the legitimacy of the vote, the credibility of the vote. And on Dec. 6, and even in the run-up to that, that is going to be the debate of people here in Congo.

MARGARET WARNER: With the prospect for violence.

Well, Solomon Moore of The Wall Street Journal, thank you for joining us.

SOLOMON MOORE: You’re welcome.