Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad
CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA: Opposition charges of ballot stuffing, bullying and dirty tricks clouded a legislative election in Egypt Sunday in which the ruling party wants to prevent its Islamist rivals from repeating their 2005 success.
Some voters were turned away by officials saying there was no election or that polling booths had shut. Others reported ballot boxes filled to the brim only minutes after voting began, rights groups and opposition campaigners said.
Egypt’s election commission said the vote was fair and complaints were being probed, adding official results for all of Egypt would be announced Tuesday.
The banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidates run as independents, contested 30 percent of lower house seats after winning 20 percent in 2005.
But the Islamists expect a lower total this time. Hundreds of their activists were detained ahead of the poll, signalling the government’s determination to squeeze its most vocal critics out of Parliament before a presidential vote in 2011.
“There’s no voting going on, just rigging. It’s a disgrace,” said Hassan Sallam as he emerged from a polling booth at Raml, Alexandria.
Abdel-Salam Mahgoub, the candidate for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in that constituency, denied any abuses. “These are accusations from people looking for an excuse to cover their failure,” he told Reuters. Brotherhood supporters chanted “Void, void” as NDP supporters walked in to vote.
The Brotherhood candidate, Subhi Saleh, accused his NDP rival of distributing “outrageous” fake pamphlets in Saleh’s name that said falsely that he was quitting the election. Saleh said later he was roughed up by thugs after he and supporters tried to enter the Abees polling station in Raml.
Hassan Said, a chemist, said he tried to vote for Saleh in Abees but a state security officer watched him fill out the ballot paper and said he must choose the NDP candidate.“We resisted, but then he said: ‘If you don’t vote like I tell you, you will not leave this polling station,’” said Said.
The vote’s result is in no doubt, only the margin of victory for President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP. The two-round election in which 508 seats are at stake, with 10 more appointed by the president, may also offer a foretaste of how Cairo conducts next year’s presidential vote.
Mubarak, in power since 1981, has not said if he will run again and investors say uncertainty over the future leadership has been dampening foreign appetite for Egyptian securities.
A Citibank currency trader in Cairo said some capital left Egypt last week but put this down to a broader exit from riskier global assets due to Korean tensions and Ireland’s debt crisis. “If there are no problems around these polls, that might lend some support to the pound,” he said.
Voting began at 8 am and ended at 7 pm. A run-off will take place on December 5 for districts where no candidate won more than 50 percent in the first leg.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters protested in Alexandria after polls closed. “Are you rigging the vote again?,” they shouted outside a counting center guarded by police.
The High Elections Commission said voting was smooth and that complaints were being probed but were not serious enough to question the vote’s legitimacy.
In Cairo, voting appeared very thin at a dozen polling stations around the capital, where only a handful of people were waiting to cast ballots, with a few policemen on guard duty.
The head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Gamal Eid, said the vote was marred by less violence than in past polls, but that was no guide to its fairness.“Most of the monitors are saying many ballot stations were closed and ballots were already stuffed before the voters were allowed in,” he said.
The son of an independent candidate was stabbed to death in Cairo before voting began, the Interior Ministry said.