Egyptians protest flawed elections
29 November 2010, 22:09
Cairo - Demonstrations and riots swept across Egypt Monday protesting alleged fraud by the ruling party in parliamentary elections in which the opposition said its candidates had been heavily defeated.
The complaints were backed up by a coalition of local and international rights groups that observed Sunday's elections and said they had lacked any transparency and were marred by widespread fraud and rigging.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd party said the initial results indicate they will have little representation in the new parliament. In the past session, the Islamist Brothers held 20% of the body's seats.
Brotherhood's media official Abdel Galil el-Sharnoubi said none of the group's 130 candidates have so far secured a seat, either losing to the National Democratic Party or facing a December 5 run-off.
"The elections revealed the real intention of the regime to unilaterally take over the Egyptian political arena," he said.
The contests for parliament come ahead of next year's sensitive presidential elections when Egypt's ageing President Hosni Mubarak may run for yet another term after nearly 30 years in power.
"This parliament will make the president of Egypt," said el-Sharnoubi, explaining why such efforts were made to ensure an overwhelming victory for the ruling party.
Rafiq el-Ghitani says his Wafd party also has no winners so far, while a handful of candidates will go into run-offs.
Though official results are not due until Tuesday, voters around the country have already taken to the streets after a day that saw election monitors excluded from polling stations and sporadic violence by armed men intimidating voters at polling stations.
The rights groups also estimated turnout for the elections was only 10 to 15%, substantially less than the 25% turnout in the 2005. While the government has yet to issue official figures, the head of the election commission al-Sayyed Abdel Aziz Omar admitted that it was "less than the accepted level".
In the southern province of Assiut police used tear gas to disperse a procession of Muslim Brotherhood supporters armed with sticks and carrying their candidate Mahmoud Helmi and chanting "Islam is the winner".
Further south in the temple city of Luxor, police arrested 30 people after protesters set fire to cars and clashed with security forces after hearing their candidate, an independent, had lost. Five people were injured.
North of Cairo, in the Delta province of Gharbiya, 500 supporters of a defeated Wafd candidate staged their own protest, later clashing with supporters of the ruling party.
Police opened fire on the crowd to disperse it and arrested several.
Supporters of another independent candidate in the countryside south of the port city of Alexandria attacked the polling station after hearing the results and burned tires in front of it.
Then in the Delta province of Menoufiya, protesters set fire to two schools used as polling stations.
Egyptian authorities have denied any instances of fraud.
The head of the ruling party, Safwat el-Sherif said on Sunday that the party will confront any such allegations.
"An outlawed group of people is trying to stifle the positive results of the elections by spreading rumours about the whole process," he said, referring to the Brotherhood.
A coalition of local and international rights, groups, however, announced on Monday that there had been a systematic effort to manipulate the elections by excluding observers from the polling stations to allow fraud to take place.
"The election started in the morning but they were already in darkness because the representatives of the opposition were not allowed in," said Bahey el-Din Hassan of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, explaining that in almost all cases licensed party representatives were excluded from polling stations.
In the absence of any kind of monitors, either from civil society or the opposition, the activists alleged supporters of the ruling party were able to stuff the ballot boxes - something they could not do in the past because of the presence of judges in the polling stations.
A 2007 constitutional amendment declared that judges were no longer necessary to observe the actual voting process. Many attribute their presence to opposition success in the past two elections.
"We are facing violations that we have not seen in the last two elections, when the stuffing of ballots boxes had stopped because judges were in the polling stations," explained Hafez Abu Saada of the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights.
"This year we have gone back to the tradition of marking ballots."
Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch detailed numerous violations at polling places around the country, including premature closings, when many activists allege the ballot stuffing takes place.
While admitting that he did not see the actual fraud take place first hand, the widespread efforts by authorities to ensure the elections were not supervised was highly suspicious.
"The rather total lack of transparency about these elections puts the burden on Egyptian authorities to show others how these elections were not fatally compromised," he said.
Before the election, Egypt publicly rebuffed US calls for international election monitors, maintaining that its own civil society groups were adequate to the task.