JNN 16 Dec 2012 Cairo : Unofficial results say Egypt has backed the controversial sharia-based constitution in the first round of voting, reports Al Arabiya. Voters got behind the document by a narrow margin of 61 percent amid opposition allegations of fraud.
Shortly after polls closed on Saturday night, the opposition group The National Salvation Front issued a statement voicing “deep concern… over the number of irregularities and violations in the holding of the referendum,” accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of fixing the vote.
The group urged voters to vote “no” on the new constitution but stopped short of calling for a boycott of the referendum, which they had previously promised if irregularities were seen in the voting process.
Among the allegations of fraud that The National Salvation Front flagged in a separate document included; a lack of judges to monitor the voting process and reports of members of the Muslim Brotherhood browbeating people into voting“yes” to the new constitution.
Hundreds of Islamist protests subsequently attacked headquarters of opposition party Al-Wafd in Cairo on Saturday night. They used gasoline bombs and birdshot, injuring two people before security forces arrived on the scene to disperse them.
“Just a few minutes ago, hundreds of Abu Ismail’s supporters were trying to break the wall of the headquarters and were firing Molotov cocktails at the building.” Al-Wafd Chief Editor Majdy Sarhan told Egypt’s official news agency, MENA. He stressed that the assailants also damaged nearby parked cars and the façade of the building.
Over 50 percent of Egypt’s registered voters made their way to polls on Saturday to vote for a constitution that has opened rifts among the Egyptian population. The final decision of the new charter will be made next Saturday when the rest of Egypt votes.
The opposition has slammed the new document for being too rooted in Islamist doctrine and not representative of Egypt’s minorities. President Mohammed Morsi claims that the document is necessary to usher in a period of transition in Egyptian politics.
Over 120,000 troops and 6,000 tanks have been deployed around Egypt to protect polling stations and government buildings.
Tensions have been running high in the world’s largest Arab nation where the new constitution has effectively split the country in two. Massive protests hit Egypt’s second largest city of Alexandria on Friday as opposition protesters scuffled with Muslim Brotherhood supporters at the city’s central Mosque.
Three weeks ago Morsi assumed new powers that allowed him to take decisions without the review of the judiciary. He was forced to relinquish these extra powers on December 9 to quell public anger after thousands of protesters gathered at Cairo’s presidential palace to decry the new measures.
Egyptians queued to vote on Saturday on a constitution promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood as the way out of a prolonged political crisis and rejected by opponents as a recipe for further divisions in the Arab world’s biggest nation.
Soldiers joined police to secure the referendum after deadly protests during the buildup. Street brawls erupted again on Friday in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, but voting proceeded quietly there, with no reports of violence elsewhere.
President Mohamed Morsi provoked angry demonstrations when he issued a decree last month expanding his powers and then fast-tracked the draft constitution through an assembly dominated by his Muslim Brotherhood group and its allies. At least eight people were killed in clashes last week outside the presidential palace.
The liberal, secular and Christian opposition says the constitution is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights. Morsi’s supporters say the charter is needed if progress is to be made towards democracy nearly two years after the fall of military-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.
“The sheikhs (preachers) told us to say ‘yes’ and I have read the constitution and I liked it,” said Adel Imam, a 53-year-old queuing to vote in a Cairo suburb. “The president’s authorities are less than before. He can’t be a dictator.”
Opposition politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter: “Adoption of (a) divisive draft constitution that violates universal values and freedoms is a sure way to institutionalize instability and turmoil.”
Official results will not be announced until after a second round of voting next Saturday. But partial results and unofficial tallies are likely to emerge soon after the first round, giving an idea of the overall trend.
In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters who cast ballots. A little more than half of Egypt’s electorate of 51 million are eligible to vote in the first round in Cairo and other cities.
Christians, making up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million people and who have long grumbled of discrimination, were among those waiting at a polling station in Alexandria to oppose the basic law. They fear Islamists, long repressed by Mubarak, will restrict social and other freedoms.
“I voted ‘no’ to the constitution out of patriotic duty,” Michael Nour, a 45-year-old Christian teacher in Alexandria. “The constitution does not represent all Egyptians,” he said.
Islamists are counting on their disciplined ranks of supporters and the many Egyptians who may fall into line in a desperate bid to end turmoil that has hammered the economy and sent Egypt’s pound to eight-year lows against the dollar.
“I voted ‘yes’ for stability,” said shopkeeper Ahmed Abou Rabu, 39. “I cannot say all the articles of the constitution are perfect but I am voting for a way forward. I don’t want Egyptians to go in circles, for ever lost in this transition.”
Morsi was among the early voters after polls opened at 8 a.m. (1:00 a.m. Eastern Time). He was shown on television casting his ballot shielded by a screen and then dipping his finger in ink — a measure to prevent people voting twice.
One senior official in the committee overseeing the referendum said Saturday’s vote could extend to Sunday if crowds were too heavy to allow everyone cast ballots in one day. Voting for Egyptians abroad that began on Wednesday has been extended to Monday, the state news agency reported.