- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2011

CAIRO Islamists and liberals accused election officials Thursday of filling out ballot forms for elderly or confused voters at some polling stations during the second round of parliamentary elections.

If confirmed as a pattern, the reports could chip away at the credibility of what so far has been the freest and fairest vote in Egypt’s modern history.

Under Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime, elections were systemically rigged, and the corruption was a major impetus behind the popular uprising that ousted the authoritarian leader in February.

But as the polls closed, it was still unclear how widespread the problems were.

The head of the election commission, Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, described the allegations of wrongdoing as “a strong wave of rumors which aimed at driving wedge between the judges and the people.”

He said he investigated some incidents and found out that judges overseeing the voting were helping disabled, illiterate voters.

But because of the accusations, judges now tell voters asking for help that this is not their role.

“If people lose confidence in their judges, this will lead to a state collapse,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

The second round of voting in nine of the country’s 27 provinces covered vast rural areas where the two Islamist blocs that dominated in the first round look poised to cement and probably bolster their already overwhelming majority.

In many of the races in this stage, the two Islamist alliances contested head to head.

These elections are the first test of the strength of political forces that have emerged in the 10 months since the uprising.

The political forces are roughly divided into two camps - the Islamists on one side and, on the other, secular and liberal groups that largely drove the uprising but failed to turn their achievement into a victory at the polls.

However the crux of power in Egypt remains in the hands of the ruling military council that took power from Mr. Mubarak. It is the executive and ultimate authority on all matters of state in absence of a president.

The most immediate and urgent concern for the liberal and secular groups is the drafting of the country’s new constitution.

The new parliament will be in charge of picking the 100-member constituent assembly to draft the constitution and many fear an Islamist-dominated parliament may lead to a document guided by strict religious principles.

The two leading Islamist alliances - the front-running Muslim Brotherhood and second-place Al-Nour representing ultraconservative Salafi Muslims - won close to 70 percent of seats in the first round on Nov. 28 and 29, according to an AP tally compiled from official results.

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