The upcoming referendum, and its precedents

The three previous referendums may determine the 2019 referendum, which is likely to be held during the last third of April.

Like any vote in any political system, the nation’s political environment will be reflected by the participation rate in the next referendum.

This was clear in the referendums of 2011, 2012 and 2014. The participation rate in the first was 41.1 percent in the “battle for the ballot boxes” (a phrase used by a Salafi preacher at that time) with limited polarization among the political forces compared to the following two referendums with 32.9 percent and 38.6 percent participation.

It’s well-known that the second referendum was the most polarized compared to the first and third, which are most similar despite the great momentum surrounding them. The low voter turnout in the 2012 referendum (the second referendum) was resultant of a large boycott and citizen reluctance to participate. In other words, the greater the degree of polarization among the Egyptians, the greater proportion of the boycotts.

Economic and social effects play a significant role in the participation rate. When a citizen feels the heat of low income, high prices for goods and services, increasing unemployment rates and the devaluation of the local currency, and hence the poverty rates at the national level or within governorates increases, the citizen is reluctant to participate, either because of frustration, or because of the desire not to lose time deducted from economic activity.

The participation rate in any vote is also determined by the reasons themselves that one might take to the ballot boxes. The greater number of citizens that takes to the ballot boxes to choose one or more people to represent a specific place (electoral constituency) in parliamentary elections, the greater the electoral momentum due to the rapid response to election campaigning and the high frequency of motivated and perhaps religiously motivated individuals, as is the case in many developing countries. Here the participation rate is expected to increase, as was reflected in the 2011/2012 parliamentary elections that had a participation rate of 59 percent.

On the other hand, in the presidential elections, the participation rate is relatively low, where the race is between a limited number across the country.

Moreover, referendums face obstacles to citizen participation because they make decisions regarding non-human governmental instruments such as constitutions, formal agreements, etc.

It is important that the 2019 referendum be conducted with a high degree of integrity and transparency.

It should be noted that since the 2014 referendum, the authorities have taken measures to support that integrity. And in this regard, we bring to mind the cancellation of a postal vote for Egyptians abroad since the 2014 referendum due to the problems discovered therein, as well as the increase in punishments for voter impersonation and double voting from temporary imprisonment to long-term imprisonment.

In general, it is believed that allowing more Egyptian and foreign observers to monitor the voting process will increase the transparency of the entire process.

It should be noted that the 2014 referendum was attended by 83,000 observers, including 790 foreign observers. Their reports didn’t mention the actions of systematic administrative intervention. It is therefore important not to reduce this level of transparency.

It is important to urge citizens to vote in the referendum in traditional ways and avoid controversial means.

Here we evoke the role of the media in urging citizens to participate regardless of their position on the constitutional amendments. This role is carried out professionally, in contrast with gossip raised about some parties forcing shop owners and others to raise banners to not only call for participation, but also to direct voters to vote for certain parties.

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