Few surprises in first round
|Friday, November 11,2005 00:00|
Few surprises in first round
Ayman Nour, leader of the Al-Ghad party lost for his National Democratic Party (NDP) opponent Yehia Wahdan in the Bab El-Sharia constituency. Nour served as Bab El-Sharia MP’s for ten years.
Fathi Surour, the speaker of the People’s Assembly, and Zakaria Azmi, the chief of the presidential cabinet, were re-elected in Cairo, while NDP vice chairman Kamal al-Shazli and business tycoon Ahmed Ezz, member of the NDP’s Policies Secretariat won in the Nile Delta.
Electoral commission secretary general Intissar Nessim gave no turnout figure. Announcing partial results, he said most NDP stalwarts retain their seats.
Three of the Muslim Brotherhood’s 51 candidates won and 38 others will contest the run-offs next Tuesday. Six lost in the first round.
Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour a Coptic leader in the opposition Al-Wafd in the Waili district and Labour party leader Magdi Hussein in Al-Manial, lost in the first round.
The recently formed National Front For Change’s received a tough blow when none of its 96 candidates won and only a few of them, including its spokesman Mustafa Bakri, will contest the run-offs.
A coalition of human rights groups which monitored the elections yesterday held a press conference this afternoon where they contested the fairness of the vote. They complained of vote buying, inaccurate electoral lists and violence.
"The indications are frightening," said Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary "compared to the 2000 elections, the authorities replaced police [intervention]."
Runoffs are due to be held in November 15.
This time round, in a televised speech broadcast on Tuesday on the eve of the poll, Mubarak urged citizens to vote and pledged that "the elections will be free and fair, supervised by the judiciary and monitored by the people..."
"I am confident," said Mubarak, "that we shall once again prove to ourselves, and to the world, the depth of our democratic experiment and of our intent to continue along the road of reform."
The first stage of the elections covers the governorates of Cairo, Giza, El-Menoufiya, El-Minya, Beni Sweif, Assiut, the New Valley and Marsa Matruh, where thousands of polling stations opened their doors at 8am.
Transparent ballot boxes, NGO monitoring, complete judicial supervision and the marking of voters’ fingers with indelible ink were among the measures adopted in an attempt to guarantee the election process.
"Something has changed and it is encouraging. Perhaps this time round the government is serious," said Tamer Hussein, a doctor.
Initial reports suggest a higher turnout than in 2000 when only 23 per cent of registered voters went to the polls. But according to NGO monitors -- the Civil Society Elections Monitoring Observatory, the National Campaign for Monitoring Election and the Shadow Committee for Monitoring Elections -- there was evidence that yesterday’s vote had been marred by irregularities.
Violence was reported outside some polling stations as well as the presence of police officers at some voting committees. There were incidents of incomplete electoral lists leading to voters being turned away and allegations emerged of voters being offered bribes of between LE20 to LE100 by NDP candidates and of public buses being requisitioned to ferry supporters. Nor was indelible ink always available. More seriously, ballot papers already filled out in favour of NDP candidates were distributed.
Mahdi Akef, supreme guide of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood (MB), accused the ruling NDP of widespread fraud.
"The regime," he said, "is determined to continue along the path of corruption."
Under the slogan "Islam is the solution" the MB led the most organised campaign of any opposition group, with its leaders predicting they were in the running for up to 50 seats.
Wael Omar, a cameraman with the monitoring group Shayfeen.com (We are watching you), witnessed a fight that broke out at a polling station in the Torah area.
"I was filming the fight when an NDP-backed thug punched me in the mouth and told me to leave while the security men just stood by," he told reporters. However, Shayfeen.com reports "a fairly positive assessment overall... there was confusion and a little bit of violence but as monitors we had free access."
In Qasr El-Nil, expected to be the scene of one of Cairo’s most closely fought battles with Hossam Badrawi of the NDP, independent Hesham Mustafa Khalil, Gamal Abdel-Salam of the Muslim Brotherhood and Fathia El-Asaal of the National United Front for Change (UNFC) all contesting the seat, the day was unexpectedly quiet. Around the constituency’s Zamalek and Garden City polling stations campaigners urged the public to vote for their candidate, with by far the greatest number -- including young girls and elegant, elderly women all sporting T-shirts emblazoned with Badrawi’s face -- campaigning for the NDP.
A number of clashes were reported in Bab El-Sheireya and El-Moski, where Al-Ghad leader Ayman Nour is being challenged by Yehia Wahdan of the NDP. According to the National Association for Human Rights and Human Development, which sent observers to monitor the polls, Nour was attacked and hit in the face by Wahdan’s supporters as he was touring a polling station in El-Ruwei at about 2pm.
"The supporters of Wahdan, who was also present, threw a glass bottle at Nour that injured his forehead," said Amir Salem, head of the association, an offshoot of the National Council for Human Rights. Salem also reported that Nur’s representatives in the El-Ruwei polling station were assaulted by Wahdan’s supporters.
Wahdan, a former state security officer, has been accused by local and international human rights organisations of involvement in torture.
"Voters cannot cast their ballots freely," Nour told Al-Ahram Weekly as he toured a polling station in the area.
In Nasr City, where prominent business tycoons Mustafa El-Sallab (NDP) and the independent Fawzi El-Sayed are battling it out with the MB’s only female candidate Makarem El-Deery, the competition was fierce. El-Sallab has represented the constituency for the past decade.
"Why should I change the person I vote for when I am satisfied with him? El-Sallab has an excellent reputation and he’s been fighting for us for a long time. I believe only NDP candidates should win so that they can implement President Mubarak’s reform agenda," said Mohamed Nabil, a civil servant.
As the competition reached a climax a clash erupted between El-Sayed and El-Deery’s supporters, with the latter accusing the former of being corrupt and lacking faith. Police interfered to stop the dispute as voters watched the chaotic scenes with growing disbelief. Hesham El-Halafawi, who is contesting the seat as an independent, was among those who witnessed the clash. "These are the first elections I have seen that appear not to have been tampered with," he told the Weekly.
Kamal El-Shazli, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, is attempting to retain his El-Bahgour constituency in El-Menoufiya against a strong challenge from Mohamed Kamal, an NDP member now running as an independent.
The ability to provide services seems to be the key to winning the hearts and votes of many residents of El-Menoufiya, and El-Bahgour is no exception.
"He got my children good jobs and is always there for the people of his district," said Nadia Abdel-Meneim, an elderly woman who was holding El-Shazly’s photo as she waited to greet him. It was a story repeated by a great many voters, who said they supported El-Shazly because of his ability to provide their communities with jobs and other services.
Also in El-Menoufiya NDP candidate and businessman Ahmed Ezz is running against Ibrahim Kamel in the constituency of Menouf.
"It has all gone smoothly so far and the police have been neutral. The voting is proceeding in a disciplined manner," said Abdel-Moeti El-Nadri, assistant to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abu Zeid.
"The supervision of the judges, the transparent ballot boxes, the presence of monitors at the polling stations and the increased awareness of the general public have been major features of the 2005 elections," said counselor Abdel-Fattah Hegazi, head of one of Al-Bahgour’s polling stations.
In the southern city of El-Minya polling stations in the surrounding villages were all but empty though the turnout in El-Minya itself was higher. At Al-Burgia School, where 10,200 voters were listed, the polling station was crowded.
"Everything has gone well up till now," said 30- year-old Ragab Khalifa. "There has been no intervention whatsoever from the police. The supervising judges have been very strict in verifying every voter’s name, and this slowed down the process of casting votes resulting in big crowds outside the polling station, but that is all."
An estimated 25 per cent of El-Minya’s inhabitants are Copts and they turned out in large numbers to support the six candidates standing in local constituencies.
The results of the first round of the parliamentary elections are expected to be announced today. Run- off elections, which could involve up to half of the 82 constituencies that voted yesterday, are scheduled for Tuesday.
Written by Shaden Shehab, reported by Dena Rashed (El-Menoufiya), Mohamed El-Sayed (El-Minya), Magda El-Ghitany (Qasr El-Nil), Mustafa El-Menshawy (Bab El-Sheireya), Reem Nafie (Nasr City) and Salonaz Sami (Boulaq)