A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If Elections Occur, How to Understand the Electoral System

Damned if I know. I have a Ph.D. and know Arabic and first went to Egypt nearly 40 years ago and I can't figure it out. The utterly corrupt and fraudulent old electoral system was easier to understand, though also befuddling, but at least you knew what the final step was: "Step 67: Government makes up its desired results. Publishes them." Now, nobody understands it.

Since at least as of Tantawi's speech yesterday the elections are still officially on, I thought I'd offer a guide to interpreting the votes. Please read this and then explain it to me, will you?

Democracy is hard, but it doesn't have to be this hard. This graphic, posted by The Daily News Egypt, tries to explain how it works:

Click image to go to full-size PDF of chart
Clicking should bring up a detailed PDF.  the original PDF is available here.

Okay, I'm glad we cleared that up. Still confused? Get used to it. Even the constituency boundaries for the two types of elections aren't congruent, so each ballot is somewhat unpredictable. Confuse and rule? Maybe. There are two separate systems: a party list system and an individual candidate system. Parties will dominate. The geographic frames also differ. I can see how some people may be puzzled about who represents them. It's a Rube Goldberg system. The American Electoral College is easier to figure out. (Why are they doing it this way? To deliberately obfuscate and confuse, or through general incompetence? I'm wavering but don't rule out the possibility of both together.)

Some useful readings, since I can't figure it out:
If no one understands the rules, how can you tell if the election is fair? This cumbersome system implies, if not more, that nobody wants you to be sure.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't look all that confusing to me, although the combination of PR and FPTP in the same election is a bit odd. (I think I understand what they're trying to do, but it's not how I'd do it.) The ballot places reserved for "candidates representing workers and farmers" are a bit odd.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Actually, the "workers and farmers" seats have been a feature of the system since the Nasser era.