Islamists, Independents Cry Foul Play as Egypt Election Begins
A month of Egyptian legislative elections got underway Wednesday with Islamist and independent candidates complaining of foul play by candidates and supporters of the government's ruling party.
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 Moslem Brotherhood who intended to run as independent candidates for one of parliament's 454 seats.
And on Wednesday two Brotherhood candidates accused ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) rivals of orchestrating "aggressive acts" at a polling station in the northern city of Alexandria.
"Mobs dispersed voters and prevented them from casting their ballots," Brotherhood candidates Hamdi Hassan and Hussein Ibrahim told AFP in a statement.
A police source acknowledged that fights had broken out in polling stations in Alexandria, but said no serious incidents had occurred there.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which political observers call the country's largest opposition force, also claimed on the eve of the vote that around 1,000 of their members are currently being held without trial.
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.
But the authorities took legal steps to block the ruling and voting went ahead.
The country's largest legal opposition party, Al-Wafd, which has repeatedly accused the government of vote rigging, has urged the authorities "not to resort to fraud, as usual, to gain the majority of 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."
Independent candidate Essam Shaaban also complained to AFP Wednesday that NDP supporters had stopped people voting for him in a constituency near Qena, 640 kilometers (400 miles) south of Cairo.
Separately, three supporters of an independent candidate were hospitalized Wednesday after a rival independent parliament hopeful struck them with a heavy stick in Sohag, southern Egypt.
Egypt's last parliamentary elections in 1995 were marked by violence that left around 60 people dead.
The opposition denounced that vote for massive fraud which they said permitted President Hosni Mubarak's NDP to take all but 13 of the seats in the People's Assembly.
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.
The first stage, which began Wednesday, covers the governorates of Alexandria and Beheira on the Mediterranean coast; Menoufiya in the Nile Delta; Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya along the Suez canal; Faiyum south west of Cairo; and Sohag and Qena in southern Egypt.
The second stage gets underway on October 24.
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 454 members, 10 of whom are appointed directly by 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)
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