Opposition charges fraud in Egypt's referendum

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Opponents charge fraud in Egypt’s referendum

CAIRO — Egypt’s opposition Sunday said fraud was committed during a referendum on the nation’s Islamist-backed constitution, which preliminary results indicated had been approved by voters. The dispute augured more ill will and public confrontation between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and their opponents.

The constitution, which went before voters Saturday in a second and final round of balloting, was approved with 64 percent of the vote, according to an initial count, the state news agency reported.

Leaders of the National Salvation Front, a coalition of nationalist, left-wing and moderate politicians, urged the government to not put the constitution into effect until after an investigation.

“We documented a set of irregularities that are clearly evidence of systemic violations,” said Amr Hamzawy, an NSF leader and political science professor. “We would like the responsible party to investigate and report the conclusions before the final results of the referendum are announced,” he added, referring to Egypt’s High Election Commission.

The NSF said it had compiled a list of 1,500 violations in the referendum’s first round on Dec. 15 and said a similar number of abuses occurred Saturday. Charges include voters being turned away and judges who served as observers turning up late at voting centers where the constitution was expected to fail.

NSF leaders said that the constitution amounted to President Mohammed Morsi’s first step in a plan to build an Islamist dictatorship. “We see that our people are on the verge of a series of laws that will ravage general freedoms and will humiliate the poor in this nation,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, one of the NSF’s leaders and a former presidential candidate.

Sabahi indicated that the coalition would continue to back demonstrations to pressure the government, calling the NSF’s supporters “a wide front for a great popular resistance in the street.” Since late November, those protests have turned into violent confrontations between Morsi’s supporters and the opposition.

Sabahi said the non-Islamist parties looked to elections as the place to defeat Morsi’s ambitions, but added that they have not decidided whether to compete in parliamentary elections early next year.

“We are ready to lead all democratic battles,” he said. “The Egyptian people will prove every time that they are able to democratically depose any group that imposes its authoritarianism.”

Islamist political figures sounded conciliatory notes Sunday but said nothing about addressing the allegations of fraud. Morsi’s presidency office, sensitive to the accusations being railed against him, defended the draft constitution, calling it “a substantial improvement on human rights advocacy.”

Anticipating passage of the constitution, Morsi has started naming non-Islamist parties and Christians to the Shura, the Parliament’s upper assembly. The body was elected in spring with the lower Parliament assembly, which was later dissolved by judges. The Shura remained intact, and will take on legislative powers now until new lower assembly is elected.

Among the new 90 presidential appointments to the body were Christians and non-Islamist political parties. However, the Shura’s 270 seats remain with Islamists.

Morsi’s supporters say his measures, including the emergency decree that allowed him to push through the constitution, were provoked by a hidden conspiracy to sabotage the Islamists running the country after decades of suppression under deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s government and his predecessors.

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