Egyptians vote for new parliament

Egyptians vote for new parliament 
Opposition candidates have been able to campaign with relative freedom 
Voters in Egypt are taking part in a first round of parliamentary elections.
More than 5,000 candidates are standing for office. President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party is expected to win another substantial majority.

However, the elections are regarded as an important part of the reform process under way in the country.

Eight of Egypt’s 26 governorates, including Cairo, are voting in what is the first stage of a three-part election process that ends in December.

Voters on Wednesday are choosing between some 1,500 candidates who are competing for around 180 of the 444 elected seats in the People’s Assembly.

The rest of the country will vote on 20 November and 1 December, with the final outcome of the election not likely to be known until the middle of December.

Violations reported

Campaigning by candidates has been largely peaceful, but there have been reports of widespread violations.

Local NGOs say candidates from all sides have been guilty of using money in gifts to influence voters.

They also say government officials in many places have shown flagrant bias towards the ruling NDP.

Few people expect this election to seriously challenge the political domination of the ruling party, says the BBC’s Ian Pannell in Cairo.

But it will test the strength of the opposition, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist group whose candidates run as independents because the authorities will not allow them to form a party.

The vote will also be a test of ongoing political reforms in Egypt.

Many Egyptians regard their parliament as a toothless, rubber-stamp body and it will take more than a gentle opening up of the political process to change that, our correspondent adds.