Egyptians waiting outside a polling station in Cairo's al-Sayyeda Zeinab neighborhood to cast their votes in the presidential election- Egypt Today /Ashraf Fawzy
CAIRO - 28 March 2018: Those who abstain from voting in the presidential election will be fined up to LE 500 ($28), the National Election Authority (NEA) said in a statement, begging questions on social media on how the punishment could be applicable.
“The authority will apply the law’s provisions concerning the fine on those who abstain from voting in the presidential election,” the statement said, adding that applying the punishment is a must, as it is a matter of principle and respect for the law.
“The election is a national duty for creating a better future,” the statement read.
“Eligible people whose names are registered on the voter database and abstained unjustifiably from voting shall pay no more than LE 500 in fines,” Article No. 42 of Egypt’s 2014 Presidential Election Law stipulates.
However, the authority’s statement contradicts other remarks given by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal when he was casting his ballot on Tuesday. Abdul Aal ruled out that the fine could be applied due to an expected high turnout. Over three days of voting, the NEA has observed high voter turnout, saying that the election process is going smoothly.
Meanwhile, MP Salah Hasaballah, the spokesperson for the House of Representatives, said that the state has mechanisms to implement the law, without mentioning what such mechanisms are.
Social media users reacted against the statement, particularly on how the government can apply the punishment on non-voters.
“Someone told me that if you did not vote, they [the officials] would add the value [of the fine] onto electricity, gas, phone or water bills. I laughed, telling him that if such bodies have the ability to coordinate with each other on how they could collect the fine, I will happily pay it,” a citizen posted on his Twitter account.
Another Facebook user shared a video showing a pickup truck with loudspeaker notifying people that the fine value will be added onto one's electricity bill.
This time, the abstainer could be forced to pay the fine before renewing any governmental papers, such as passports and IDs, another Twitter user said.
Meanwhile, others saw the NEA statement as a “mere threat.”
Salah Fawzy, head of the Constitutional Law Department at Mansoura University, said on Wednesday that the fine is legally applicable, but he personally sees that it should not be applied as voting is up to the will of voters.
In the 2014 presidential election, the election authority announced that the same punishment would be applied; however, no fines were imposed on any of the abstainers. The number of eligible voters in the 2014 election was around 54 million people. Only 47.45 percent of the electorate cast their ballots.
Egypt is one of 19 countries that have compulsory voting – since 1956 – but it is not enforced, according to a report issued by Sweden’s International Institution for Democracy and Electoral Assistance on August 31, 2017.
Belgium and Argentina were the first countries to adopt compulsory voting, in 1892 and 1914 respectively, the report added, noting that compulsory voting aims to gain a high voter turnout.
Egypt’s 2018 presidential election kicked off on Monday for about 60 million eligible voters, to elect a president between incumbent President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and his only rival, al-Ghad Party Chairman Moussa Moustafa Moussa.
In spite of the fact that the NEA has observed a "high voter turnout," many Egyptian celebrities, parliamentarians and media outlets alike are urging people to cast their votes.