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Egypt opposition claims fraud in closely watched election
Egypt opposition claims fraud in closely watched election By William Wallis in Cairo Egyptians voted on Wednesday in the first stage of elections for a parliament that could help determine the pace of change for years to come.  Political life in Egypt is slowly rising from the dead as President Hosni Mubarak, under pressure at home and from abroad, loosens some
Thursday, November 10,2005 00:00
by Financial Times

Egypt opposition claims fraud in closely watched election
By William Wallis in Cairo


Egyptians voted on Wednesday in the first stage of elections for a parliament that could help determine the pace of change for years to come.

 
Political life in Egypt is slowly rising from the dead as President Hosni Mubarak, under pressure at home and from abroad, loosens some restrictions on opposition activity after 24 years of authoritarian rule.

But while they noted some improvements, opponents of Mr Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) were still crying foul and independent monitors said voting conditions were short of free and fair.

“There has been a shift in the way fraud happened. In the past the state security services were much more directly involved. Now the state has backed down a little and given room for bullying by individual candidates and their supporters,” said Nasir Amin from the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, one of numerous local NGOs monitoring the polls.

In sight of journalists, the brother of one parliamentary candidate from the ruling NDP in the Shubra district of Cairo shut the door to a polling booth and began stuffing the ballot box. Similar complaints emerged elsewhere.

In another Cairo district throngs of female NDP supporters were bussed in to vote with only party cards as ID. And supporters of Ayman Nour, the opposition parliamentarian who was a distant runner up to Mr Mubarak in September presidential polls, alleged a massive vote buying exercise was under way to oust him from his seat.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a fair election was the opaque and dated voter list, which includes ghosts while excluding many genuine would-be voters.

Polling opened in Cairo and several other provinces on Wednesday but is stretched nationwide in three stages over the next month. Over 5,000 candidates are competing for 444 seats, many of them as independents.

The outlawed but resurgent Muslim Brotherhood – considered by many analysts to be the only truly organised opposition force - is hoping to make serious gains. Its candidates, who are allowed to run as independents, were able to campaign freely for the first time.

Mohamed Habib, the Islamist movement’s deputy leader was among many on Wednesday who said confusion over the voter list offered opportunities for widespread fraud.

But he admitted that Brotherhood supporters had been subject to less harassment than in the past on the first day of a parliamentary election more closely scrutinised at home and abroad than any before in Egypt.


The police and security services appeared relatively neutral. Ballot boxes were for the first time transparent and independent and political party monitors were allowed into polling stations.


The ruling party appeared yesterday to be fighting two irreconcilable battles: one to maintain its stifling dominance of parliament where it holds more than 85 percent of seats, and another to win credibility at home and in Washington for the president’s pledge to usher in democracy.


If the NDP emerges as it is expected to with another bruising majority, it will allow Mr Mubarak to adopt change largely on his own terms.


At stake for opponents of his regime is their ability to contest the presidency in the future. According to a new constitutional amendment only parties with over 23 seats will be able to do so. At present officially sanctioned opposition parties hold only 17 of 444 seats.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, accused supporters of President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic party of threatening rivals and bribing voters.

Violations were witnessed by the Financial Times: the brother of a candidate for parliament from the ruling NDP in the Shubra district of Cairo shut the door to a polling booth and began stuffing the ballot box while, in another Cairo district, female NDP supporters were bussed in to vote with only party cards as ID.

Tensions were also high in the poor, crowded constituency where the political future of Ayman Nour, the feisty opposition parliamentarian who was a distant runner up to Mr Mubarak in September’s presidential polls, is at stake.

In narrow streets thronged with hundreds of hungry bystanders, supporters of Mr Nour alleged a huge vote buying exercise was under way. This was aimed, they said, at ousting him from the seat he has held in parliament for the past 10 years and which has provided the platform for his loftier ambition to take on the regime.

But independent monitors reported that the first day of polling did see improvements on previous elections.

As voters made their way to the polls, Mr Mubarak’s party appeared to be fighting two irreconcilable battles: one to maintain its dominance of parliament, where it holds more than 85 per cent of seats; and another to win credibility at home and in Washington for the 77-year-old president’s pledge to usher in democracy.

Polling opened in Cairo and several other provinces on Wednesday but is stretched nationwide in three stages over the next month. More than 5,000 candidates are competing for 444 seats, many of them independents.

If the ruling NDP emerges, as it is expected to, with another bruising majority, it will allow Mr Mubarak to adopt change on his own terms.

At stake for opponents of his regime is their ability to contest the presidency in the future. According to a new constitutional amendment, only parties with more than 23 seats will be able to do so. At present, officially sanctioned opposition parties hold only 17 of 444 seats.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a fair election is the opaque and dated voter list, which includes ghosts and non-residents, and excludes many would-be opposition voters.

The outlawed but resurgent Muslim Brotherhood is hoping to make serious gains after its candidates, running as independents, were allowed to campaign freely for the first time.

“These lists differ from what the NDP has, to what the judges have, to what the voters see,” said Mohamed Habib, the deputy leader of what is Egypt’s main Islamist movement.

But in some respects he and others, including independent monitors, said the first day of a parliamentary election more closely scrutinised at home and abroad than any before in Egypt, did see improvements.

The police and security services appeared largely neutral. Ballot boxes were for the first time transparent. Independent and political party monitors were allowed into polling stations, and apart from a few incidents, registered opposition supporters were able to vote.

“In the past, the state security services were much more directly involved in fraud. Now the state has backed down a little and given room for bullying by individual candidates and their supporters,” said Nasir Amin, from one of numerous local non-governmental organisations monitoring the polls.


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