Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 June 2005
Issue No. 745
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Opposition cries foul

Unable to claim the success of their boycott call, the opposition is questioning the validity of the turnout for last week's referendum. Mona El-Nahhas reports

The results of the 25 May referendum on amending Article 76 of the constitution, announced by Interior Minister Habib El-Adli last Thursday, were greeted with incredulity by the opposition. The turnout, Adli said, was 53.6 per cent, the highest ever in a referendum, with 82.9 per cent of votes cast in favour of the amendment. The voters, he continued, had "expressed themselves freely and shown their patriotism".

"I don't believe these figures are possible. I am sure the turnout did not exceed 10 per cent," said Mohamed Habib, deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood joined the Wafd, the Tagammu, Nasserist and Ghad parties and Kifaya, the Popular Movement for Change, in calling for a boycott of the referendum.

Abul-Ela Madi, one of Kifaya's founders, insisted that "the turnout was very low despite attempts to mobilise voters with government agencies and companies bussing employees and workers to polling stations and forcing them to vote".

The daily Al-Wafd published front- page photographs of two of its reporters casting their vote six times at six different auxiliary polling stations. There were more than 50,000 such polling stations, staffed by government employees. The paper also published photographs of ballot supervisors filling out voting cards themselves and stuffing them into boxes.

The referendum, said Hamed Mahmoud, deputy chairman of the Nasserist Party, was a major setback for democracy and reform. "What happened shows that the NDP remains unwilling to relinquish its monopoly on the state," he said.

Only the 329 main polling stations were under judicial supervision. At these stations voters with electoral cards were allowed to cast a ballot, but only after their names had been checked against voting lists .

Supervising judges have registered dozens of complaints concerning violations during the referendum which will be examined by the Cairo Judges Club.

While the NDP trumpeted the results of the referendum as a triumph, opposition forces took the opposite view.

"The way security dealt with pro- reform demonstrators on the day of the referendum underlines the failure and increasing desperation of the regime," said Madi . Should the regime escalate its confrontational policy, he argued, it will open the door wide to foreign intervention in Egypt's affairs .

"Boycotting this rigged referendum was the only positive response," said Madi.

Ayman Nour, chairman of the liberal Ghad Party, agrees. "The opposition adopted the only honourable course. If we had voted yes in the referendum we would have been condoning the restrictions contained in the amendment. If we had voted no, then it would have appeared as if we were against amending Article 76, which is not the case. We want the article to be amended, but not in a way tailored to allow for the inheritance of power."

Opposition groups are already considering a boycott of September's presidential elections, with some who had announced their intention to run reconsidering their positions in the light of the possibility of electoral fraud.

"We have always been against the inheritance of power, and can hardly be expected to participate in elections the sole purpose of which is to lend legitimacy to something that is illegitimate," said Madi.

Among those expected to run in the presidential elections No'man Goma'a, leader of the Wafd Party, says he is reconsidering his position.

The Tagammu, which had earlier announced the candidacy of Khaled Mohieddin, also appeared to be backtracking. "The party's general- secretariat will decide next June whether or not it will be nominating a candidate," said Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a member of the party's political bureau.

"We will decide on whether or not to contest the elections once we see the new law regulating presidential elections. Will the law guarantee candidates equal access to the media? Will candidates not belonging to the NDP be allowed to organise public rallies and campaign openly and freely? We need to know before we make any decisions," said Shukr.

Sources close to the party expect that the Tagammu's current leader, Rifaat El-Said, will be the party's candidate should they decide to fight the election.

Only Nour is adamant he will stand by his earlier decision to contest the elections in order "to expose the regime and its false claims about democracy and reform in Egypt".

The opposition, he says, must up its protests, and form a united front. Given long-standing differences -- ideological and personal -- between the various opposition groups that may prove easier said than done.

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