Big majority vote for constitutional changes in Egypt


EGYPT’S constitutional amendments were adopted by 77.2 per cent of the 18.5 million who cast ballots in the first vote to follow the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak five weeks ago.

An unprecedented 41 per cent of Egypt’s 45 million eligible voters cast ballots. For most Egyptians this was the first contest free from vote buying and rigging and they stood in long lines to participate. In elections held during Mr Mubarak’s rule, perhaps 5-10 per cent voted.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) called for a Yes vote but the January 25th Youth Coalition, which speaks for the democracy movement, leftists and Coptic Christians, favoured a No.

Opponents of the amendments fear the Brotherhood and the NDP will benefit from the plan of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections. Veteran political parties crushed by the ousted regime and new parties will not be able to compete on an even field, opponents argue.

Voting was generally peaceful, although there were some incidents of harassment of Christians at polling stations in the south. In a poor district of Cairo, violent Muslim fundamentalists attacked Nobel laureate Mohamed Elbaradei, a presidential candidate who opposed the amendments, when he approached a station.

The amendments restrict a president to two four-year terms, open the door to independent candidates and place polling stations under monitoring of judges, but do not limit presidential powers.

According to the SCAF’s agenda, a parliamentary poll will be held in June and a presidential election in August. A constitutional commission will then be formed to draw up a new document. Since the military has been in power for 60 years, critics fear it seeks to preserve its position rather than provide for the emergence of multiparty democracy.