Mubarak set to win Egypt poll, critics cry foul
|Thursday, July 5,2007 14:42|
|By Edmund Blair|
CAIRO, Sept 7 (Reuters) - President Hosni Mubarak is widely expected to win Egypt"s first multi-candidate presidential election on Wednesday, but his critics are crying foul even before voting begins.
Campaigning for the poll ignited a political debate not witnessed for decades in a country that Mubarak, a 77-year-old former air force commander, has ruled for the past 24 years.
But many Egyptians are sceptical Mubarak or his nine rivals, most of them little-known politicians, can deliver on promises to relieve poverty or create jobs and are sure the election will not change the man at the top.
The largest opposition group, the moderate Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, could not field a candidate because it is barred from forming a political party and because of stringent rules that effectively stopped independents running.
"I don"t think Mubarak will lose, it"s just the way it is. But the people are tired. We just want reform," said Fawzi al-Laithi, a 47-year-old mechanic.
The United States, which has been pressing for democracy in the Middle East, said it had expressed concern to Egypt -- a U.S. ally and a major recipient of U.S. aid -- about a lack of international monitors for the election.
"We"re going to be talking to Egyptians in all walks of life, from civil society as well as political parties for their views, on how the election process unfolded," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.
"We have called for Egypt to accept international monitors ... Certainly, that is something that we expressed concern to the Egyptian government about," McCormack told reporters.
ACCUSATIONS FLY OVER MONITORING
The Egyptian government says the election will be fair. The Presidential Election Commission has said judges and representatives of the 10 candidates can watch voting inside polling stations, but not independent monitors.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the election"s organisers had the right to stop rights groups from monitoring inside polling stations.
Rights groups, who say abuses have riddled parliamentary polls in the past, accused authorities of having something to hide. "I have deep doubts about whether there will be free and fair voting," said Ahmed Samih, representing one rights group.
Mubarak"s main opponents on Wednesday are liberals Ayman Nour, 40, of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, and Noman Gomaa, 71, standing for Wafd, which has a handful of seats in parliament.
The president surprised Egyptians in February by proposing a contested presidential race to replace an old system where parliament, dominated by his ruling National Democratic Party, chose a single candidate for approval in a referendum.
The proposal was made amid U.S. calls for Middle East reforms and a growing number of anti-government street protests. But Egypt denied facing pressure.
Mubarak has campaigned on a record of economic development and political stability and has promised more political and economic liberalisation if he wins a fifth six-year term.
His critics say economic growth has been too slow and that Mubarak has expanded political freedoms half-heartedly and only in response to foreign and domestic pressure.
Mubarak appointed a reform-minded cabinet in July 2004 that slashed customs duties, announced tax cuts and fully floated the currency. The reforms have boosted investor confidence and pushed the stock market to record highs.
After seven years of domestic peace, bombers struck resorts used by Israelis in the Sinai peninsula in 2004. They attacked again in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in July, killing at least 64 people and denting Mubarak"s image as a guarantor of stability.
Egypt has 32 million registered voters. Turnout has traditionally been low in a country where none of its presidents has left office via the ballot box since a 1952 revolution that toppled a monarchy.