Opposition claims massive fraud in Egypt poll

Opposition claims massive fraud in Egypt poll

Opposition claims massive fraud in Egypt poll
Observers predict incumbent president will seek to tamper with election results to ensure sufficient legitimacy.
By Joelle Bassoul – CAIRO

Indignant opposition candidates and independent monitors claimed Thursday that incumbent Hosni Mubarak’s camp had massively violated electoral law during Egypt’s first contested presidential poll.

The accusations sent a tense backdrop for what was guaranteed to be the beginning of a fifth term for the 77-year-old leader, whom observers had predicted would seek to tamper with the results to ensure sufficient legitimacy.

Forced voting, paid voters, unmanned polling stations, missing indelible ink and the use of public transport to ferry voters to polling stations were only some of the accusations against Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

As counting continued across the country, results were not expected before late Thursday at the earliest. The country’s judges – tasked with supervising Wednesday’s vote – warned before the polling stations opened that they would not endorse them.

However government officials voiced satisfaction with the polling process.

"The electoral process… was as good as could have been envisioned," said electoral commission secretary general Osama Attawiya.

But opposition activists, who demonstrated Wednesday to urge a boycott of an election they deemed unfair, were already planning protests against the poll results for later in the week.

There was no immediate comment from Mubarak’s camp.

Estimates released by the four-term president’s main rival, Ghad party leader Ayman Nur, indicated that turnout stood at between 15 and 20 percent in rural areas and hovered between 3 and 5 percent in cities.

A top aide to Nur – who described the vote as a "defining moment in Egypt’s history" – claimed the fiery 40-year-old lawyer should obtain between 30 and 55 percent of the vote if the election was not rigged.

Nur’s deputy, Hisham Kassem, said he expected mass fraud would take place during the counting.

The Wafd party of Nur’s main rival for second spot, Numan Gumaa, also alleged "unacceptable abuses" during the voting on the part of Mubarak supporters.

"I am very disappointed. I was not expecting a perfect election… but the extent of the irregularities and their premeditation was unacceptable," senior Wafd official Munir Abdel Nur.

It is the first election in which Mubarak has faced challengers and follows intense international and domestic pressure for reform in a country still ruled under a state of emergency imposed after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

Independent monitors reported a litany of irregularities at polling stations, complaining they had been beaten, apprehended and interrogated by security services in several places.

Several rights groups said Mubarak supporters actively campaigned throughout the day and reported that some had voted on behalf of other people.

Delegates for Nur’s Ghad party cited the case of a man who arrived at a polling station in southern Egypt only to find out that somebody had already voted for him and reported on places where indelible ink was not being used, or where no identity papers were being requested.

In a new-style campaign crafted by his influential son and possible successor Gamal, Mubarak appealed to the country’s poor, pledging to create more than four million jobs and increase wages.

The man dubbed "the last Pharaoh" was last re-elected in 1999 with 93.79 percent of the vote but according to independent estimates, turnout reached barely 10 percent in the previous elections he won unopposed.

The regime has trumpeted the poll as a watershed in the country’s democratisation, but the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt’s best-organised opposition force – was barred from fielding a candidate as it remains banned.