- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

CAIRO — Egyptian voters will return to the polls for runoff parliamentary elections in most parts of Cairo today amid accusations of widespread fraud in the first round last Wednesday.

About 80 percent of seats contested in the first round will be repeated in the runoff. Egyptians are voting in three stages for a 454-member People’s Assembly in an election widely considered a test of President Hosni Mubarak’s commitment to democratic reform.

Numerous monitoring groups reported that late in the counting process in some districts last week an elections judge, at times accompanied by an Interior Ministry official, took final vote tallies into a private room in the counting station and emerged hours later with unrecognizable figures.

“They disappeared for two or three or four hours. In one case, they started the count with 16,000 votes, but came out of the room with an extra 6,000 votes,” said Ghada El-Shahbandar, a founding member of Shayfeenkom, a civil organization that monitored the election and has lodged an official complaint with the Ministry of Justice.

In six constituencies, the discrepancy was enough to turn the tide away from an opposition candidate and toward a candidate from the ruling party who had appeared likely to lose, Mrs. El-Shahbandar said.

Candidates from the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which was given unprecedented leeway to campaign in the run-up to these elections, said irregularities in the count cost them at least two seats and forced some of the candidates unnecessarily into the runoff elections.

Since the vote on Wednesday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have held demonstrations to protest the results. On Friday, security forces arrested six Brotherhood supporters at a rally in Cairo’s Mohandiseen district.

In that district, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Hazen Abu Ismail led in the election tallies until the final stage of the count, but then lost to the ruling party candidate.

Other serious concerns noted by monitors included widespread problems with the voter registration lists, including thousands of repeated names and names of deceased voters. Vote buying was common, reported the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

Monitoring groups also reported several positive changes in the election process. The vote was largely free of security force intimidation and interference at polling stations, common in past elections. Observers were given better access to the polls, and ballot boxes were made of transparent material for the first time.

The runoff will decide final results in 133 constituencies in Cairo and seven nearby provinces.

The ruling party, which holds 90 percent of the seats in parliament, is expected to retain its grip on power after these elections. Some gains also are expected for the Brotherhood, which holds 15 seats.

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