High turnout in Egyptian constitutional poll

Voters to decide on a package of constitutional reforms in the first election since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.

19 Mar 2011

Millions of Egyptians have turned out for today’s constitutional referendum, the first vote following the overthrow last month of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s long-serving president.

Voters are deciding on a package of nine amendments, about half of which deal with the conduct of elections. One would make it easier for independent candidates to run for president; another would re-establish judicial oversight of elections.

The amendments were drafted by an eight-man constitutional committee, which was appointed by the ruling military junta. They must be approved or rejected as a bloc.

There were early reports of high turnout, with voters in some districts predicting an hours-long wait before they would be able to cast their ballots.

“This is an historic day for Egypt,” said Yahya al-Gamal, the country’s prime minister, after casting his vote in Cairo. “I have never seen such large numbers of voters in Egypt. Finally, the people of Egypt have come to realise that their vote counts.”

Voters also reported some irregularities: Some polling centres in Giza, Mohandiseen, 6th of October City and other districts were reportedly handing out ballots without the required official stamp. Ballots without a stamp on the back can be discarded as illegitimate.

An uncertain outcome

Most of the amendments have been longtime demands of the Egyptian opposition – but most of the country’s opposition parties are urging voters to reject them. Critics want a completely new constitution; they say these modest changes do not do enough to limit the powers of the president.

Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief and a front-runner for Egypt’s forthcoming presidential election, has urged a “no” vote; so has former IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei.

The youth activists that drove Egypt’s revolution have also decided to oppose the amendments: The Revolution Youth Council held an internal vote earlier this week and, while it decided to participate in the referendum, it urged people to vote “no.”

“Most of the people who triggered the revolution are going to say no,” ElBaradei said.

The highest-profile support has come from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has plastered many Cairo neighbourhoods with posters urging voters to approve the amendments.

Supporters say a “yes” vote will hasten a return to civilian rule: If the amendments are approved, Egypt is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in June, and a presidential election in September. If the amendments are defeated, the parliamentary election could be postponed until December while a committee works on revising the constitution.

Polls suggest the outcome of the vote will be close. One survey earlier this week found that 60 per cent of eligible voters planned to vote “no.”

About 45 million people are eligible to vote. They will do so using their national ID cards, a key change from Mubarak-era elections, when voters were required to pre-register for elections – a process often subject to fraud and intimidation.

Polls will close at 7pm local time [17:00 GMT], though some polling centres in southern Egypt will remain open until 9pm.

Egypt considers constitutional amendments
By Reza Sayah
March 19, 2011

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) — Egyptians proudly streamed to the polls Saturday to vote on proposed constitutional amendments, the first democratic initiative after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

An estimated 45 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in what is widely viewed as the country’s first free election in decades, and the poll would set the stage for parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.

“I am very very happy,” said Mohamed El Hourushy, a 19-year-old political science student. “This is something I’ve been fighting for all my life. I didn’t think I would live to see this scene.”

The proposed amendments include limiting the president to two four-year terms, capping emergency laws to six months unless they are extended by public referendum, and placing elections under judicial oversight.

Opponents say the proposed amendments were rushed and fall short of the people’s demands. Many demand a new constitution and claim an early referendum gives an unfair edge to the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party — well entrenched and politically savvy groups that are much better prepared to mobilize voters than newer factions still scrambling to get organized.

But presidential candidate and head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who is urging a “no” vote, lauded the referendum as “the first official step towards the democracy called for in the January 25 movements.”

” ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ is not the issue — that Egyptians are participating and voting today is what’s important,” he said.

The polls opened at 8 a.m. at more than 13,000 polling stations across the country, and many arrived early to polling stations to beat the crowds.

Outside the polling station at Kasr el Eini el Doubara — a Cairo language school — around 50 people lined up just before voting started. Many Egyptians, even senior citizens, said this was their first time voting.

“It feels good,” said 80-year-old Nadia Risk. “It feels like, although I’m a senior citizen, I might be able to contribute to something that will be very democratic.”

“I feel my vote will make a difference for the first time in my life,” said 58-year-old Ibrahim Fahmy.

“I was born in 1952 during the first revolution and ever since I did not feel this country belongs to me. This is the first time I feel my vote will make a difference.”

Voters filed in to a room where they picked up their ballots and went behind a blue curtain to mark their vote. A check inside the green circle was a “yes” vote. The black circle was a “no” vote.

Election officials marked voters’ fingers with pink ink to keep them from voting more than once.

At about 8:30 a.m., Moussa, who called on Egyptians to vote against the amendments, arrived to cast his vote. A throng of reporters and cameramen surrounded him as he made his way to the ballot box.

“I honestly passed by many polling stations and they were all filled with people awaiting to make their decision. It is our duty to accept whatever they decide,” Moussa said.

“It’s very strange to have a referendum organized and implemented in one month,” said Karim Elias, a 33-year-old software engineer who said he voted “no.” “I want a new constitution. I want something that represents the Egyptian people.”

Judge Mahmoud Atiya — the head of the judicial committee overseeing the referendum — told CNN the next step in the transition to a civilian government depends on the outcome of Saturday’s referendum.

If the measures are voted down, the military will go back to the drawing board, Atiya said, and eventually issue another order, in accordance with the constitution, on what will come next in the transition to a civilian government.

It’s not clear exactly what the army’s instructions will be in case of a “no” vote or whether they’ll extend their self-imposed six-month deadline to transfer power to an elected civilian government.

If the measures are approved, the military will move forward with parliamentary elections in June, Atiya said.

Analysts say it’s hard to predict the outcome of the vote.

The ruling Egyptian Armed Forces announced this week that thousands of international monitors will be in place at polling stations across the country to ensure transparency in the voting process. More than 30,000 soldiers and security agents are also manning polling stations, security officials said.

  1. #1 by Thor on Sunday, 20 March 2011 - 10:18 am

    We’re eagerly waiting for the next GE to come but the question is, will it be a fair play?
    In the past by-elections, we’ve seen many circumstances where the ruling party played “dirty” and nothing could be done about it.
    “Bribery” are the most usual tactics that UmnoBn are using openly and when each election comes, gifts will start pouring in where money will be “traded” in exchange for a win.
    Whatever these UmnoBn does, it seemed to be legalise by the EC as well.
    Complaints made during and after elections are not taken in and even related cases have been struck out by high court as well.
    No wonder these Umno buggers are so arrogant and boastful all these while, knowing that every law enforcement organisation are under their thumb.
    2008 GE is just a lucky “incident” where the opposition tend to win small because UmnoBn was so over confident with themselves at that time and was too busy celebrating in advance.
    In this coming year, I do believe that the next GE will not be as lucky for the pakatan as UmnoBn will be prepared to use whatever dirtiest tactics that they could get their hands on.
    If Pakatan fellas are not prepared or are too over confident just because of their previous win, then it’ll be the worst for everyone of us.
    Pakatan can’t always rely on us or even god as well.
    As long as EC is not sincere, the outcome of votes can always be manipulated and who knows where our votes will end?
    Pakatan should find an effective solution fast as to stop these sorts of hanky panky.
    We don’t trust our EC and we don’t trust our judiciary so we must get help from elsewhere.
    Act fast before Najib call for the dissolution of the parliament!

  2. #2 by Thor on Sunday, 20 March 2011 - 10:42 am

    To our Sarawak brothers and sisters!!!
    Let’s boot BN out and scare the hell out of “Syaitan” Moo, so that he could joke no more.
    Show him who these “syaitan and jembalang” of peninsula are, which he can’t differentiate.
    He’s too obsessed to be the next PM!

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Sunday, 20 March 2011 - 11:25 am

    Can really wallop taib aaaah? Can change aaaah?
    Or just syiok diri 1? Y only English n Chinese? Y no BM, Tamil, Kadazan? Not multilingual?

  4. #4 by dagen on Sunday, 20 March 2011 - 11:33 am

    Our election results traditionally go yo yo. If that trend remains true then umno will win with better result this coming round (i.e. GE13). Badawi had one good swing during his tenure – a swing so good that badawi was caught flat footed when it reversed. Now jib is striving for his good swing. He seems to be getting it. Then he seems to have lost it. There are just too many issues and scandals. The recent by-election results are no reasons for public orgy by umno really. They are quite expected. Despite that umno had their orgy anyway. That is an indication of how deep seated their fear is of losing in GE13. In other words they are not confident.

    But i reckon this pendulum swing this time is not going to be a neat one like before. Its the sabah N sarawak factor. On this side of the pond some malay votes and a lot of indian votes appear to have gone back to umno. On the other side of the pond we could well see an emergence of the 308 tsunami phenomenon. The anyone but umno or barisan will do mentality. This will potentially throw umno off their feet. A very tricky situation indeed. So yes work on sabah & sarawak.

    And like badawi, jib too will not have anything to show after GE13 (assuming he is still standing after GE13). Then the pendulum will swing against him and in pakatans favour.

    If umno and barisan does not fall this time, it surely will come the next round. But I fear the next round could be a little too far away. The mid east crisis could trigger mass impatience.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Sunday, 20 March 2011 - 12:37 pm

    ///High turnout in Egyptian constitutional poll///

    After having crushed intimidation by the former power-that-be, the Egyptians were emboldened to speak their minds. They cherished their new-found freedom of expression and they were not afraid to voice their opinion pertaining to political matters.

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Sunday, 20 March 2011 - 10:08 pm

    Test moderation.

You must be logged in to post a comment.