Mubarak says turnout will be key to elections

Mubarak says turnout will be key to elections
Cairo: Turnout will be the main measure of success for the parliamentary elections kicking off this week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in an interview published yesterday.
“Participation and turnout are key to the success of the elections in the same way they were key to the success of the presidential poll,” the Egyptian leader told the Al Ahram daily.

Official figures put turn-out for the September 7 poll, the country’s first ever multi-candidate presidential election, which Mubarak swept with 88.5 per cent of the votes, at 23 per cent.

Independent observers and opposition leaders argued that the figure was much lower.

Millions of Egyptians go to the polls on Wednesday to vote in parliamentary elections staggered over four weeks to elect 444 MPs out of 5,310 candidates in a process Mubarak has promised would be free and fair.

The main secular opposition parties have formed an alliance to counter Mub-arak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which currently controls 404 seats in the People’s Assembly.

But the stiffest challenge is expected to come from NDP turncoats and the Muslim Brotherhood, an officially banned movement which already controls the largest opposition bloc in parliament where they sit as independents.

The polls are due to kick off in Cairo and seven other governorates on Wed-nesday.

A member of an outlawed opposition group who is running for a seat in the parliamentary elections was detained Thursday on accusations of stealing religious alms to supplement his campaign spending.

Essam Mokhtar, a member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was later released after appearing before the prosecutor-general Thursday evening for interrogation, as around a 1,000 Brotherhood members staged protests outside.

“Police told him that some people said he is using alms money in election campaigning, which is baseless,” Mokhtar’s spokesman, Mohammad Al Kassass, said by telephone.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the press, said the arrest came after the imam of Al Fateh mosque, where Mokhtar was distributing alms, filed a complaint accusing Mokhtar of embezzlement.

Al Kassass said 10 plainclothes policemen arrested Mokhtar following noon prayers while he was discussing the distribution of alms inside a mosque.

Protesters chanted slogans calling for Mokhtar’s release Thursday night. “Patience, patience, oh Essam. Victory will be for Islam!” Mokhtar is a first-time candidate for a parliamentary seat in the Nasr City constituency, an upper middle-class district of Cairo.

Al Kassass accused the ruling National Democratic Party of filing the complaints against Mokhtar to clear the way in front of their candidate.

“It’s obvious that the NDP fears the popularity of the Brotherhood candidate,” he said, adding that local authorities this week removed Mokhtar’s campaign banners but left the NDP candidate’s banners untouched.