Egypt's Month-Long Elections Begin Wednesday Without Islamist Element
A month of Egyptian legislative elections gets underway Wednesday, but without the participation of what political observers call the country's largest opposition force -- the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt's Islamists, who are prevented by law from evoking religion in their politics, have accused the government of "rigging the elections in advance" by arresting members of the banned Brotherhood who intended to run as independent candidates for one of parliament's 454 seats.
Around 1,000 of their members are currently being detained without trial, the movement claimed in a statement issued on the eve of the vote.
An administrative court in Alexandria appeared to back up the Brotherhood's shouts of foul-play on Tuesday by ordering the elections not to take place in one constituency of the Mediterranean city after security forces arrested the electioneering aides of one Brotherhood candidate a day earlier.
Judicial sources told AFP the government was working on legal measures to block the ruling.
The country's largest legal opposition party, Al-Wafd, which has repeatedly accused the government of rigging past votes, has also urged the authorities "not to resort to fraud, as usual, to gain the majority of the seats."
In its daily newspaper of the same name, the liberal party has said it could sweep around 100 seats "if the freedom of the vote is guaranteed."
The opposition denounced the previous parliamentary elections in 1995 for massive fraud which they said permitted President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to take all but 13 of the seats in the chamber.
The current elections will have a member of the judiciary in every polling station in accordance with electoral laws that were amended in July following a lengthy lawsuit filed by a disgruntled former parliamentary candidate.
With some 15,251 polling stations and just 9,000 members of the judiciary, the country has been split into three zones, with voting taking place in three stages for the first time.
Nearly 25 million voters are entitled to cast their votes for the 4,134 candidates for 444 seats up for grabs, according to official figures. The final results will be announced in mid-November.
Parliament comprises a total of 454 members, 10 of whom are appointed directly by President Hosni Mubarak who generally compensates for the under representation of Coptic Christians and women in parliament.
The five-year term will begin with the new parliament's first session on December 13 - CAIRO (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)