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8:09 am
Wed December 1, 2010

Furor grows over Egypt's election results

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As the country awaits the Egyptian government's official announcement of results from Sunday's parliamentary elections, unofficial results show not surprisingly that the ruling party crushed the opposition in a contest marred by allegations of widespread voter intimidation and fraud.


The Obama administration criticized Egyptian parliamentary elections Tuesday, saying there had been "restrictions on basic freedoms" and "numerous reported irregularities."


Protests erupted across Egypt in the wake of the voting. And opposition candidates who are eligible for next Sunday's runoff vote are threatening to withdraw.


Turnout was low on Sunday perhaps as few as 1 out of every 10 Egyptians, though the Egyptian government says more than 1 in 3 eligible voters cast a ballot.


The low turnout wasn't necessarily by choice. In the Cairo suburb of Shubra el-Kheima, where candidates loyal to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood were running, a crowd of angry voters fought in vain with state security agents to get inside a neighborhood school.


Inside, a dozen polling stations were set up in rundown classrooms. But there were no voters only poll workers with stacks of empty ballots piled high in front of them and state security agents.

The ballot boxes were made of wood and glass and had no security tape or seals, only small padlocks.


This video posted on YouTube on election day recorded secretly on a cell phone appears to show an instance of fraud. In the video, election workers fill out ballots and hand them over to colleagues who carry them out of the camera's range.


Observers say it is difficult to gauge the scope of the fraud. Few independent monitors or representatives for opposition candidates were allowed inside the 44,000 polling stations.


Salaheddin Issa, a lawyer who represents a candidate aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, says state security agents punched him in the jaw when he tried to get inside a polling station.

Issa's candidate, incumbent lawmaker Mohamed el-Beltagui, barely made it to next Sunday's runoff, which will pit him against the ruling party candidate. But Beltagui predicts he will lose if the government employs the same tactics as it did last Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government says it will investigate complaints about voting irregularities. Local and international groups expressed doubt, however.


Joe Stork, a deputy director with Human Rights Watch, and others at a recent news conference criticized the lack of transparency in the election process and the government's strong-arm tactics.


"Now draw your own conclusions about what that says about what went on behind closed doors, draw your own conclusions about what that says about how those votes were counted. It's up to the government, I think, at this point to show that our suspicions are totally groundless," he says.


Stork and others also blasted the lack of real international pressure on Egypt to hold free and fair elections.

SOURCE: NPR