1st-phase poll results expose 'illegitimate' charter: Egypt opposition

Salma Shukrallah , Monday 17 Dec 2012

Initial results of Egypt's divisive constitutional referendum reveal widening polarisation among public and few prospects for meaningful dialogue between rival political camps

vote count
Constitutional referendum round one vote count (Photo:Mai Shaheen)

The results of the first phase of Egypt's constitutional referendum have revealed unequivocally that the country is largely divided, with the margin between those who support the draft charter – spearheaded by the Islamist current – and those who reject it failing to exceed 6 per cent, according to unofficial estimates.

To some, the results indicate a weakening of the Islamist movement, which was able to garner more than 70 per cent in last year's parliamentary elections.

"A 44 per cent rejection rate for the constitution is quite high and shows that the nation is deeply divided," Mohamed Adel, member of the April 6 youth movement, said in a Sunday statement. "The results have killed the dream of the Islamist current and the Muslim Brotherhood after half of the nation said 'no' to the draft charter."

"It's hard to imagine that any respectable country would pass a constitution rejected by 44 per cent of society, especially when turnout rates failed to exceed 31 per cent," he added.

Islamist figures, for their part, now point the finger of blame at the opposition, which, they say, successfully campaigned to turn public opinion against the draft constitution with "lies."

On Sunday, Salafist Nour Party spokesman Yousry Hammad accused liberal forces, a "corrupt" media and remnants of the former regime of spreading false information about the draft charter.

"It comes as no surprise that people were misled by liberal forces, who operate above the law," he said, adding that these same forces had "promoted lies" about the draft's contents.

Ahmed Oqeil, for his part, member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), praised the Egyptian public's participation in last Saturday's referendum.

"The Egyptian people have resisted all the campaigns against the referendum process and all the claims that there weren't enough judges to supervise the polling and the predictions of violence," Oqeil told Ahram Online. "Despite all this, the level of participation was high."

"Now the opposition is trying to get people to believe that a 56 per cent approval rate is not sufficient for the charter to pass, which is not the case," he added. "No constitution can garner a 90 per cent approval rate. A 50+1 approval rate is all that is necessary."

According to the FJP member, the 'yes' campaigners will continue raising awareness about the positive aspects of the draft charter, which, he believes, will be enough to counter the "lies being propagated to destroy people's understanding" of the proposed constitution.

"Our motto is, 'Read the constitution'," said Oqeil. "We're sure that if people read it, they'll be convinced."

Meanwhile, opposition figures have been quick to note that the turnout figure for Saturday's poll was relatively low compared to previous post-revolution elections and referendums. They also stress that only just over half of those who cast ballots voted 'yes' to the document, while the referendum itself was marred by numerous reports of electoral violations.

Rights organisations, meanwhile, have released reports citing numerous violations and demanding that a new first-phase poll be conducted.

"Despite the [January 25] revolution, we had a referendum like those held during the Mubarak era," Bahieddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said at a Sunday press conference.

Alfred Raouf of the opposition Constitution Party told Ahram Online that the referendum's main problem was the lack of judicial oversight. Numerous polling stations were not supervised by judicial officials, he pointed out, with FJP and Salafist monitors apparently managing the process in several cases.

Judge Hossam El-Gheriany, head of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, was responsible for providing monitoring permits for the referendum – yet he was also head of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the proposed constitution. Thus, many rights activists say, it was easier for 'yes' campaigners to obtain monitoring permits, which allowed them to enter polling stations and supervise vote counts, while opposition members were barred access in many cases.

According to human rights lawyer Negad El-Borai, El-Gheriany granted more than 20,000 election-monitoring permits to members of the Muslim Brotherhood's FJP.

Raouf believes the 'no' vote would have been substantially higher than the 'yes' vote had polling not been so one-sided. However, he adds, the 44 per cent rejection rate is high enough to deem the draft charter illegitimate, especially given that some 70 per cent of eligible voters did not even bother to cast ballots.

"The high level of rejection comes despite Egyptians' desire for 'stability' – which was promised by the Muslim Brotherhood in the event that the constitution is approved – and despite the fact that the Brotherhood boasts a mobilising machine that the opposition lacks," Raouf asserted, going on to stress his belief that the Islamists' popularity on the street had dwindled.

The National Salvation Front (NSF), which spearheaded the 'no' campaign, has called for a mass rally on Tuesday against both the draft constitution and alleged poll rigging.

"This is the last chance: cancelling the badly reputed referendum, engaging in dialogue to bridge the gaps, appointing a qualified government capable of management and regaining the state of law. Egypt is above the Brotherhood," NSF founding member and Constitution Party head Mohamed ElBaradei recently declared via Twitter.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of protesters responded to NSF calls for mass rallies against the referendum and the Constituent Assembly.

Opposition parties and groups are also organising small marches in the 17 governorates that will vote in the referendum's second phase this Saturday, in which they plan to urge voters to reject the constitution and attempt to explain the draft's flaws to a confused public. Organisers of the planned marches include ElBaradei's liberal Constitution Party, the moderate-Islamist 'Strong Egypt' party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egypt Party, the April 6 Youth Movement, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Nasserist Egyptian Current, among others.

The second round of the referendum is set to take place on Saturday, 22 December, after which final results of both rounds of voting will be announced by Egypt's Supreme Electoral Commission. 

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