Opposition protests alleged fraud in Egypt vote

CAIRO — Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters protested outside vote counting stations, scuffling with police and denouncing what they called widespread fraud in Egypt’s parliament elections on Sunday, as the government appeared to determined to ensure its monopoly on the legislature in uncertain political times.

By (AP)

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Published: Mon 29 Nov 2010, 9:38 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:19 AM

The protests in Cairo and in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria capped a day of voting in which many independent monitors were barred from polling stations amid reports of ballot box stuffing and vote buying. In some places, government candidates were seen passing out cash and food to voters near polling stations.

Overhanging Sunday’s parliamentary vote was the more significant presidential election set for next year. For the first time in nearly 30 years, there are questions over the presidential vote. The 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has had health issues, undergoing surgery earlier this year. His party says he will run for another six-year term, but that hasn’t resolved the speculation over the future of the country’s leadership.

Fueling the sense of unease, Egyptians the past year have grown increasingly vocal in their anger over high prices, low wages, persistent unemployment and poor services despite economic growth that has fueled a boom for the upper classes.

Amid the uncertainty, opponents say the ruling party in this top US ally aims to sweep parliament almost completely to prevent any future platform for dissent. In the run-up to Sunday’s voting, at least 1,200 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood —were arrested and many of its candidates saw their campaign rallies broken up repeatedly.

In the last parliamentary election, in 2005, the Brotherhood stunned the government by winning a fifth of the legislature, its strongest showing ever. But officials from the ruling National Democratic Party warned heading into Sunday that the Brotherhood would not keep nearly as many in the new, 508-seat parliament.

Sunday’s voting saw sporadic violence — police fired tear gas in one southern Cairo district after police shut down a polling station, and in the southern city of Qena, Brotherhood supporters threw firebombs at police who barred them voting.

But a heavy presence of security forces, along with gangs of intimidating young men hanging around outside polling stations, seemed to scare off most opposition supporters. Only a trickle of voters, far less than in 2005, was seen throughout the day at most Cairo and Alexandria polls.

“People are scared to leave their homes. Anyone is afraid of the thugs,” said Abeer Fathi, a 32-year old housewife in Cairo who nonetheless was able to vote for her Brotherhood candidate. “The authorities are reassured because they know people won’t turn up after they scared them ahead of the vote.”

After polls closed Sunday evening, Brotherhood supporters massed outside several stations where votes were being counted. In Alexandria, around 800 chanted “no to fraud” outside a police station, facing off with several hundred riot police and truckloads of civilians touting long sticks. Brief scuffles broke out, though some Brotherhood supporters tried to pull their colleagues out of any fighting.

Several hundred others marched toward a counting center in the Cairo district of Shubra el-Kheima but were blocked by a heavy security force. Some protesters threw bottles at police.

At a press conference after polls closed, election commission spokesman Sameh el-Kashef shrugged off accusations of fraud as “not worthy of comment.”

“The Egyptians today have used their democratic right,” he said, saying “a few violations” were dealt with.

Throughout the day, independent monitors from human rights groups and candidate representatives were barred entry from many polling stations, leaving only low-level officials from the government-run election committee and police to supervise voting. Under constitutional amendments passed in 2007, independent judges who once acted as monitors no longer observe the vote.

At one point, busloads of women were brought into the al-Raml polling station, and their escorts were heard telling them to vote for NDP candidate Abdel-Salam Mahgoub. Several of the womensaid they were being paid around $7 each to vote for him.Mahgoub denied any irregularities. The Brotherhood candidate in the district was beat up by alleged government supporters, appearing to reporters bruised with blood on his shirt.

In nearby back alleys, candidate representatives were seen negotiating with recruiters who promise to bring in a set number of votes — around $9 a vote was the going price at the moment.

NDP candidates appeared to have a free hand to sway voters entering the stations. In several locations in Cairo, supporters of NDP candidates were seen handing out bags of food to voters inside the polling center or at tents set up in alleys nearby.

Egypt has 41 million registered voters, but turnout has traditionally been very low — around 25 percent in 2005. Secular opposition parties are weak, with little public support and limited resources.

Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Egypt rejected US calls to allow foreign monitors to observe the election, accusing its ally of trying to play the role of “overseer.”

Egypt argued there were enough local monitors to do the job. But civil society groups say the election committee authorized only dozen monitors. It appeared Sunday that even some of those with papers were being turned away.

The government sensitivity over the vote appears to stem from the uncertainty over the presidential election.

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