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Rights groups contest Egypt official vote turnout

(Reuters) / 29 November 2010

CAIRO - Rights groups contested on Monday an official turnout of 25 percent in an Egyptian parliamentary election that was marred by opposition charges of ballot stuffing, bullying and trickery.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) always deals heavy defeats to its opponents but the two-round elections are being watched for the space given to the government’s critics and clues to the NDP’s strategy in a 2011 presidential vote.

The High Elections Commission, a body of judges and parliamentary nominees, said a quarter of Egypt’s 41 million registered voters turned out for Sunday’s first round of voting, Egyptian state television said on Monday.

The Commission said the election was smooth with some cases of scattered violence and fraud which were resolved.

It said the results would be announced on Tuesday. State-owned newspapers said early indications from the count showed President Hosni Mubarak’s party was ahead in most areas.

Magdy Abdel Hamid, head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, said the group’s estimate of turnout was no more than 10 percent. This was based on 1,000 monitors covering 40 of the 222 constituencies across Egypt.

The official turnout in the 2005 election was 22 percent. Rights groups put it at 12 percent.

The head of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Gamal Eid, said the official turnout was gauged using the number of voting cards in ballot boxes.

“But as we know and have seen about half of those cards are filled by the government and not the voters and are fake,” he said. “And from what I have seen yesterday, the turnout is certainly less than the one in 2005.”

Brotherhood Protests

The Muslim Brotherhood, NDP’s main rival whose candidates run as independents to skirt a ban on religious parties, is contesting 30 percent of lower house seats after winning an unprecedented 20 percent in 2005.

The Brotherhood was not expecting to repeat the performance as the government seeks to sideline its loudest critics in parliament ahead of the presidential vote.

Hundreds of Brotherhood activists were detained ahead of the poll. The group said many of its supporters were bullied into voting for NDP candidates on Sunday and its attempts to monitor the vote were scuppered by state security workers and thugs.

Late on Sunday, after polls closed, Brotherhood supporters gathered outside centres where votes were counted to protest.

“Void, void, void,” chanted hundreds of Brotherhood supporters at a counting centre in Meena al-Basal, Alexandria, a city where the group contested several seats and reported ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation and other abuses.

Hundreds also gathered in a stadium where votes were being counted in Mahalla El Kubra in the Nile Delta.

“Traitor, traitor,” they shouted at security guards who entered the stadium. A van carrying ballot boxes into the stadium had posters in support of the NDP plastered all over it.

“God will not allow the forgery,” they chanted. As the crowd grew, a rights activist and journalists there said protesters scuffled with police, who fired tear gas to disperse them.

 

 
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