- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

CAIRO — Hosni Mubarak was headed for almost certain re-election to a fifth term as president today, with most interest focused on whether a low turnout and charges of fraud would turn the unprecedented contest into a hollow victory.

Mr. Mubarak, 77, concluded his campaign with an appeal to the country’s 32 million voters to turn out in large numbers, but Western diplomats in Cairo predicted many would stay away from polling booths.

“The Hosni Mubarak speaking to you tonight is seeking the support of each and every one of you,” the energetic head of state told a cheering crowd in his last public remarks Sunday.

Mr. Mubarak was retained power four times previously in simple referendums offering voters a simple choice of yes or no. As few as 10 percent of voters turned out to cast ballots on those occasions, independent observers say.

This time voters could choose from among 10 candidates. But with none of the challengers seen as having a serious chance to win, voter interest remained limited.

A Mubarak campaign manager said a 40 percent turnout would be “a great result,” while opposition spokesmen said Mr. Mubarak would need a 50 percent turnout to receive legitimacy.

Concern about fraud also is likely to mar the outcome, diplomatic sources and opposition leaders said.

“The authorities have got the ballot boxes ready with the votes inside and they are deciding whether it would look better internationally if Mubarak wins with 75 percent or 80 percent of the vote,” said Mohammed Habib, a member of parliament and spokesman for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

“Without doubt, there is a wish to rig the elections,” Mr. Habib said in an interview. The Brotherhood, Egypt’s historic Islamist movement, was barred as a religious party from contesting the election.

The most spirited challenge has come from the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party of 40-year-old lawyer Ayman Nour, who was little known in Egypt until the government boosted his recognition by briefly putting him in jail.

Another challenger is 71-year-old Noman Gomaa of the long-established Wafd Party; critics charge he ran at the request of the government to draw votes away from Mr. Nour.

Opposition forces had pinned their hopes on an election-eve legal battle to allow independent monitors inside voting places to guard against irregularities.

But the Supreme Administrative Court ruled last night that the Presidential Election Commission, which is running the voting process, was within its rights in refusing to permit such monitoring.

The government also turned down a U.S. request that international observers be permitted to monitor the voting. Mr. Mubarak argued that their presence would amount to unwarranted external interference.

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