Heated run-off poll in Egypt

Heated run-off poll in Egypt

 Cairo – The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s ruling party competed in a heated runoff vote in the country’s parliament elections on Tuesday, with scattered outbursts of violence, protests by hundreds of Brotherhood members at counting centers and reports of irregularities at the polls.

The Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic fundamentalist party, appeared to be making gains. Initial results announced by judges monitoring the count at some of the polling stations said Brotherhood candidates won at least 31 seats, with 43 for the ruling National Democratic Party.

But the bulk of the 133 seats across the country up for grabs in Tuesday’s run-off were still to be announced, and final results have differed greatly from initial announcements in past races.

Tuesday’s vote was a runoff in districts left undecided in Cairo and seven other provinces in the November 9 first round of the three-round parliament election.

Democratic reforms

Only 31 seats were decided in last week’s vote, with 26 going to the NDP, four to the Brotherhood and one to an independent.

The Brotherhood holds 15 seats in the outgoing 454-member parliament, where the NDP has nearly 390 members.

The election comes amid vows by the government to introduce democratic reforms in this top United States ally, where President Hosni Mubarak has held unquestioned power for 24 years.

But human rights groups and other monitors reported widespread irregularities, including ruling party supporters attacking and intimidating opposition supporters at polling stations and voters bused in from out of district to vote for the NDP.

“Hired thugs are targeting primarily supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidates,” said the Independent Committee on Election Monitoring in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said it witnessed “increasing instances of election bribes … collective voting and in some cases assaults on voters for not supporting NDP candidates.”

“We have gone a few steps back in comparison with the 2000 elections,” Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said, referring to Egypt’s last parliament election.

In scattered election violence, a shotgun blast in Cairo and a fight with knives and sticks in the southern city of Assiut put three people in hospital by early afternoon, police reported.

The election is shaping up as a competition mainly between the government and the Brotherhood, the most powerful opposition movement.