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Low voter turnout casts shadow on Egyptian charter approval

Low voter turnout in a referendum on Egypt’s Islamist-backed draft constitution calls into question the credibility of the document, said analysts Sunday, shortly after unofficial results showed that the draft was approved by a majority of the voters. State television said preliminary tallies showed that 63.5 per cent of the ballots cast in the two-stage vote favoured the charter.

But only around 31.7 per cent of registered voters turned out for the ballot on December 15 and 22, according to the state-run newspaper al-Ahram.

“Large numbers of voters queued up at polling stations in both stages of the referendum, but they eventually failed to cast their ballots,” said Wahid Abdel Maguid, an analyst at al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies.

He explained that many judges boycotted the vote and refused to oversee it, prompting the electoral commission to merge many polling stations together to ensure that balloting would be judicially supervised.

Without judicial oversight, the polling would have been illegal. “Tired of standing for long hours, many voters left without having the chance to cast their ballots,” Abdel Maguid told dpa. “This deprivation was one form of the massive violations that occurred in the referendum.”

The judiciary has been at loggerheads with Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after moves he made that were considered violations of the judicial authority’s independence. That included a decision made last month, since overturned, to exempt presidential rulings from judicial review.

Relations were further strained earlier this month when Morsi’s supporters started an open-ended protest outside the country’s top court. The protesters accuse the court of being biased against Morsi. Judges also say the new constitution, drafted by an Islamist-led constituent assembly, curtails their authority and threatens basic rights.

“The way the voting was conducted and the low turnout will encourage the opposition to work for bringing about the fall of the flawed constitution and resisting attempts by one faction (Islamists) to dominate the country,” said Abdel Maguid. The liberal-minded opposition claim that the vote was marred by widespread irregularities and have vowed to “fight peacefully” to cancel the new constitution.

Alleged balloting irregularities included lack of full judicial supervision and barring the country’s minority Christians from entering polling stations in some areas. The electoral commission said the voting ran smoothly and without “serious” violations. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies say approving the charter is necessary for re-establishing stability in the country, which has been hit by street turmoil and economic decline since Hosny Mubarak’s overthrow nearly two years ago.

“Egypt will witness great stability in all fields after the referendum,” said Mohammed Badei, the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. Adel al-Sanhuri, a political writer, disagrees. “The national economy is in its worst shape. Poverty and unemployment rates are seriously increasing,” said al-Sanhuri.

The local pound Sunday slipped to its lowest rate against the dollar in nine years, with one dollar rising to 6.21 Egyptian pounds, reported al-Ahram. “It is obvious that the Brotherhood’s claim about stability means allowing them to tighten their grip on power,” said al-Sanhuri.

“Egyptians,” he added,” have to brace themselves for a hell of economic and political problems.”

Adopting the charter clears the way for legislative elections to take place within 60 days. The Islamist-dominated Shura Council, or upper house, will be given the authority to legislate until a new legislature is elected.

Ramadan Al-Fatash, "Low voter turnout casts shadow on Egyptian charter approval," Business recorder. 2012-12-24.
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