'The only safe path'
The opposition and the NDP both claim they have been vindicated by the results of the 25 May referendum
With the highest voter turnout for a popular referendum in decades, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) last week hailed the results of the 25 May referendum on amending Article 76 of the constitution -- to allow for multi- candidate presidential elections -- as a major victory for its strategy of political reform, as well as a resounding defeat for the opposition's boycott call. The opposition, predictably, alleged voting irregularities.
Announcing the referendum results on 26 May Interior Minister Habib El-Adli said 17 million (or 53.6 per cent) of Egypt's 32 million registered voters had gone to the polls and that 13.5 million (or 82.86 per cent of the total number of votes cast) were in favour of the amendment, while 2.8 million (or 17.18 per cent) had voted against. There were 778,856 spoiled ballots, he said.
The figures, said El-Adli, compare favourably with the 25 per cent turnout in the parliamentary elections held in 2000. "They suggest," he argued, "that there is growing popular support for democratic development." Political participation within the framework of constitutional legitimacy, he continued, is increasingly viewed as the only safe path.
"The results send a clear message," he concluded, "to those who think they have a monopoly on truth."
El-Adli's last remark was directed at opposition groups that had called for a boycott of the referendum on the grounds that the terms of the amendment make it impossible for independent and opposition parties to compete against the incumbent in presidential elections
Those groups -- the Wafd, Tagammu, Nasserist and Al-Ghad parties, together with the Muslim Brotherhood and Kifaya (Enough) movement -- dispute the minister of interior's interpretation of the referendum results. They claim not only are Al-Adli's figures fabricated, they vindicate the boycott call.
Opposition newspapers claim the real turnout did not exceed five per cent.
"And even those who actually bothered to vote did so because leading NDP officials press ganged them into it," Abdel- Halim Qandil, executive editor-in-chief of the Nasserist Al-Arabi newspaper, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Qandil described the results as a "black comedy", arguing that the no-votes were created just for show.
Opposition newspapers reported a host of irregularities, with a number of civil and human rights organisations joining the fray. The Independent Egyptian Committee for Election Monitoring (IECEM) claimed members had monitored 26 per cent of polling stations.
"These," they reported, "were characterised by low turnout and the absence of judicial supervision."
Mohamed Ragab, spokesman for the NDP majority on the Shura Council, insists, however, that "the figures, as announced by the Interior Ministry, are realistic."
"El-Adli has acknowledged that only half of the total number of registered voters bothered to participate but compared to the 2000 parliamentary elections this is a substantial achievement.
"I am aware there is chronic antipathy on the part of registered voters toward elections and referendums but the results demonstrate that the NDP campaign encouraging participation made a significant impact," said Ragab.