Egypt polls: Tension runs high

Egypt polls: Tension runs high
 Egypt’s month-long elections are heating up as voters prepare for a new round on Sunday that can see Islamists chip away further at the ruling party’s dominance in parliament.

More than 120 seats remained to be decided in run-offs for the second phase, which kicked off on November 20 and prompted a surge in irregularities and violence that claimed the first deaths of the elections.

Last Sunday’s polling, which centred around the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta, saw the officially banned Muslim Brothers inflicted a stinging defeat on the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP only garnered eight seats, while the outlawed Islamist movement won 13 outright, bringing their tally half-way through the polls to 47, trebling the number of MPs they had in the outgoing parliament.

Two-thirds majority

Commentator Salama Ahmed Salama said: “The NDP is determined to win two-thirds of parliamentary seats and will do so by hook or by crook.

“This being the case, we can expect further violence and chaos in the next stage of the elections.”

On November 20, the driver of a candidate was beaten to death by what monitors said were NDP thugs in Alexandria, whose streets were the scene of pitched battles between rival supporters armed with truncheons and machetes.

Police said, on Wednesday a man was killed after supporters of a newly-elected MP seized backers of a losing candidate, tied him to the back of a tractor and dragged him through the streets.

Complaints from polling stations

The respected syndicate of judges this week demanded the protection of the army, due to what it described as the police’s ineffectiveness and sometimes complicity with ruling party thugs.

Egypt’s attorney-general said on Thursday he had received 123 complaints after last week’s round of polling, some of them from judges manning polling stations.

A female judge who supervised polling in the northern district of Damanhur said she had been forced by the head of the local electoral commission to leave during the counting process.

Christian Egyptians

Noha al-Zeini, vice-president of the administrative court, explained in an open letter published by the independent daily, Al-Masri Al-Yom, that the local Brotherhood candidate had been stripped of his victory over the NDP candidate.

However, widespread accusations of rigging had not prevented the Islamists from making historical gains that caught the regime off guard and sparked concern among secular and Christian Egyptians.

“Who’s afraid of the Brotherhood?” was the front page headline in Al-Aram Weekly on Thursday.

The movement deliberately fielded only around a third of the maximum 444 candidates nationwide.

So far, the Brotherhood’s success rate hovered around 50%, suggesting it could win fair and fully contested elections.