Egypt elections enter final round

Egypt elections enter final round

Voting was light and the atmosphere peaceful when polls opened in this Nile Delta city Thursday for the third round of Egypt’s legislative elections, which have been marred by violence and serious allegations of rigging.

In the first minutes, only a handful of voters entered the adjacent schools turned into polling stations — one for men, one for women — in Zagazig’s Nahal district, where the outspoken Muslim Brotherhood legislator Mohammed Morsi is standing for re-election.

More than 10 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in this final round where the last 136 parliamentary seats are being contested by 1,774 candidates. Run-off voting will be Wednesday.

There are 454 seats in the People’s Assembly, 10 of which are appointed by President Hosni Mubarak.

A Brotherhood majority in parliament, no matter how strong its showing in third-stage balloting, is a mathematical impossibility.

Nevertheless, the story of the election has become the outlawed Islamic-based group’s astounding performance so far — increasing its seats in parliament fivefold.

Brotherhood affiliated politicians held just 15 seats in the outgoing parliament, but already have captured 76 in the first two rounds of the vote for the next legislature.

Under pressure from his Washington patron to open the political system in Egypt, Mubarak allowed the Brotherhood to run a virtually open campaign, despite its banned status, with candidates rallying under the slogan, “Islam is the solution.”

The group was outlawed in 1954 and later that year accused of trying to assassinate then-Interior Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser, who became president in 1956. It renounced violence in the 1970s and eludes the ban on its activities by fielding candidates as independents, whose allegiance to the Brotherhood is well known.

The first-round vote and run-off passed with little violence, but the extraordinary showing by the Brotherhood — victories in 34 constituencies — was believed to have provoked the government crackdown in the second round and run-off.

Some 900 Brotherhood supporters reportedly have been arrested, with hundreds among them still in custody. More than 500 Brotherhood backers were arrested in the last three days before this round alone, the organization said and police confirmed.

Its voters have been barred from polling places and roughed up and beaten by police and thugs bused to polling places by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party. Police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to discourage voters and at least one person has been killed in the polling place violence.

Independent election monitors and Egyptian human rights organizations have been highly critical of the what they call regime-sponsored violence.

The Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has condemned government inspired violence and harassment, while Amnesty International voiced concern over the mayhem that marked the second round.

Going into the last round of voting, 302 seats have been decided, and judges threw out results or canceled voting for 6 seats because of violence or irregularities. The NDP has won 201 seats, the Brotherhood has 76 and other independent or opposition candidates have taken 25.