9.10.2005

Abuse undermines Egyptian elections

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Thursday, September 08, 2005

Egyptians voted in their first presidential election but President Hosni Mubarak's most prominent rival said widespread abuses undermined the credibility of the vote, which Mubarak is expected to win.

Voters headed to polling stations to choose between Mubarak and his nine rivals, most of them little-known leaders of political parties with few members, with the exception of two liberal candidates Ayman Nour and Noman Gomaa.

Several hundred demonstrators marched through central Cairo calling for a boycott of the vote, chanting "Down with Hosni Mubarak." Plainclothes men, who activists say were from the security forces, broke up the march and beat up some of the protesters.

The election enlivened political debate after decades of stagnation and brought criticism of Mubarak, almost unthinkable a year ago. But the power structure remains the same and the opposition say they doubt Mubarak wants real political change.

"This is not an election. They are treating this as another referendum. The government has lied [about a fair vote]," said Ayman Nour running for Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party.

Nour told a news conference that the ruling party and municipality officials were paying people either 20 or 50 pounds ($3 or $9) to vote and that the ink used on people's fingers to prevent them voting again was not indelible.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights made the same allegation of buying votes but it was not possible to corroborate the reports.

Nour said: "They [the authorities] are exposing Egypt to destructive danger for the sake of these petty acts. It would have been wiser for Hosni Mubarak to win by a small margin or even lose, than that he should win in a forged ... way."

Gomaa's Wafd party said its delegates were stopped in Port Said, northeast of Cairo, and Assiut and Sohag to the south. At many polling stations, witnesses said delegates for Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) were the only ones present.

The Independent Committee of Election Monitoring, a coalition of groups, said in a preliminary report that independent voting monitors were "beaten, apprehended and interrogated," especially in southern Egypt. After opposition groups voiced fears of widespread fraud, the electoral commission announced two hours after polling opened that independent monitors would be allowed to work inside polling stations, rescinding a previous ban.

However, the impromptu arrangement was not communicated to all voting stations, and "in most cases, [monitors] are still not being allowed access inside polling stations," the group said.

"Judges who are overseeing the vote in the stations are not watching television and were not advised of this late decision," said Wafaa al-Manissi from the Ibn Khaldoun nongovernmental organization.

Wafd official Salah al-Sayegh in Ismailiyya, east of Cairo, said he was filing a complaint that 500 people had voted at three polling stations where they were not registered, without the election cards people need if they vote outside their area.

Observers from the independent monitoring group Shayfeencom said NDP organizers were bringing voters to polling stations in government cars and making them mark their ballot papers in public - both violations of the law.

Ahmad Fahmi of the independent National Campaign for Monitoring the Elections, said: "There are no big violations but little problems everywhere. It's better than I expected. The main problem is that people are not voting. People are very ignorant so they pay them money to vote."

The initial election turnout did not appear to be high. In some previous Egyptian elections or referendums, less than 10 percent of people have voted, judges and rights groups said.

Many Egyptians are not registered and some have dismissed the election as a show for foreign consumption. The polling stations closed at 10 p.m. and the result is expected tomorrow or Saturday. - Agencies

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