Ruling party wins first round vote

Ruling party wins first round vote

EGYPT’S ruling National Democratic Party handily won the first round of voting in the country’s phased parliamentary elections, Justice Minister Mahmud Abuleil said overnight.

The NDP took 26 seats, while independents picked up only five.

Four of the five independents were candidates of the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, the group’s secretary general, Mahmud Ezzat said.

No one came out with an absolute victory in the remaining 133 seats up for grabs, and 266 candidates will face a run-off on Tuesday.

Turnout was 24.9 per cent, slightly more than the 23 per cent turnout in the September elections that saw the landslide re-election victory of President Hosni Mubarak.

 Most NDP stalwarts retained their seats.

In Cairo, parliament speaker Fathi Sorur and presidential cabinet chief Zakaria Azmi cruised to re-election, while the housing and finance ministers also won.

In the Nile Delta region, NDP vice chairman Kamal al-Shazli and Ahmed Ezz, who is close to Mubarak’s son Gamal and a member of the ruling party’s politburo, were also re-elected.

But Ayman Nur, who had emerged as the veteran leader’s main rival in the September presidential election, lost his seat in his own Cairo stronghold to a NDP member.

The first round of polling involved 1,614 candidates vying for 164 of the People’s Assembly’s 444 seats that are up for grabs. The NDP controls 89 percent of the current parliament.

The stakes were high for opposition groups, which need at least 23 seats to have the right to field a candidate against Mr Mubarak’s ruling NDP in the next presidential election.

With 17 seats, the Muslim Brotherhood is currently the largest opposition bloc but the Islamist movement led an aggressive campaign and hopes to triple its tally.

Mr Ezzat said the group had 41 candidates in November 15 run-off and that only six had lost so far.

Egypt’s leading independent newspaper reported meanwhile that six members of the country’s Christian Coptic minority and five women had won in the first round. Both groups are under-represented in this year’s elections.

The polling process was marred by widespread irregularities, ranging from vote-buying to the absence of indelible ink aimed at preventing double voting, according to opposition groups.

Non-governmental organisations listed a number of violations but stressed that voting had passed without any major incidents and praised the security forces for adopting a low profile.

The justice minister remarked on “the transparence and fairness of the poll” which he said was ensured by its supervision by Egypt’s judges and monitoring by civic groups.

But he said 53 complaints had been lodged with the electoral commission, some having to do with irregularities during the vote and others with the results themselves.

The second round of voting is due to kick off on November 20 and all of Egypt’s 26 provinces will have voted by December 7.

The new parliament will hold its first session on December 13.