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'Abundance' of judges ask to help oversee Egypt poll: Official

Committee for supervising constitutional poll receives 'torrents' of requests from Egyptian judges asking to help oversee balloting, says member of referendum supervision office

Ahram Online, Thursday 13 Dec 2012
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Judge Ashraf Zahran, member of the justice ministry's referendum supervision office, said that Egypt's Supreme Committee for Supervising the Referendum had received "torrents" of requests from judges to supervise the constitutional poll slated for 15 and 22 December.

According to Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website, Zahran said that the "abundance of requests" would ensure that each polling station had an extra 50 judges on standby.

Egypt's contentious constitutional referendum had initially been threatened with boycott by a large number of Egyptian judges, due to a controversial constitutional decree issued last month by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. The decree, issued on 22 November, made the president's decisions impervious to judicial challenge.

Although the decree was later replaced by another constitutional declaration, the new declaration still maintains the "effects" of the first decree. Many pundits say both declarations are essentially the same in substance.

Amid fears that the referendum could be rigged as a result of a judges' boycott, Zahran said that judges at each polling station would supervise vote-counting in the presence of media personnel and civil society organisations. He added that results of the vote count would be posted on each station's door to ensure transparency.

Groups opposed to the draft charter express fears that conditions needed for a fair vote – such as a judge at every ballot box and credible monitors – may not be available, opening the door to possible vote-rigging.

The National Salvation Front (NSF) – a recently formed umbrella group comprising liberal, leftist, nationalist and independent groups – had initially called for the poll to be postponed until a "consensus constitution" could be drafted. Now that the referendum looks set to be held on schedule, however, the NSF is urging the public to vote against the charter.

On Thursday, however, the NSF stressed that it would not accept poll results unless it had certain guarantees that the voting would be conducted fairly and transparently.

The draft constitution has been rejected by numerous political groups, who complain that the document was drawn up by an unrepresentative Constituent Assembly dominated by Islamist members.

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