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EGYPT - May 25 - Egypt Votes On Poll Reform.

Egyptians trek to polling stations to vote on a key amendment to Article 76 that will allow contested presidential polls for the first time amid opposition calls for a boycott. President Hosni Mubarak was among the first to vote after calling on Egyptians to "actively participate" in the referendum. Egypt's 32.5m voters at 54,000 polling stations were asked to answer "yes" or "no" to a single question - whether they back the reform which paves the way for what the government says will be the first multi-candidate election in September. According to the constitution, the amendment needs at least 51% of "yes" votes to get an endorsement. If the amendment is endorsed by majority voters, which is expected by both politicians and analysts, the Egyptian Cabinet will put a final draft election law regulating the election process. The new amendment stipulates that a candidate has the backing of 250 elected members of the lower and upper houses of Parliament and city councils, all of which are dominated by the National Democratic Party (NDP) headed by Mubarak. Mubarak and his wife Suzanne cast their vote in the morning at a polling station in eastern Cairo. Mubarak said he would announce his decision whether he would run for a fifth term or not after the results of the referendum. The state-owned TV also showed both his sons Gamal and Alaa casting their votes. Mubarak said after voting that Egyptians "should shoulder the responsibility with honesty and honor" and vote. "The time is ripe for the people to play a national role to render the referendum a success", Mubarak said. Some 13,000 judges and legal workers supervised the voting process that lasted 11 hours. The ballot boxes will be sent later to 329 counting centers and the results will be officially announced today. Polling stations in Cairo saw a low turnout, while in popular neighborhoods in Giza governorate, the turnout was higher and most of them said they were for the amendment. "I think it is a shame if I do not cast my vote because it is my country and I should have a say", said Mahmoud Khamis, a 32-year-old carpenter. "If people feel that the amendment is useless then they should come out and say no, not stay home and be negative", he added. "I said yes to the president of course because what we know is better than what we don't know", said one woman voter who turned up at a school polling station covered in banners reading "Yes to Mubarak! Yes to more reforms! Yes to constitutional change!" Several voters appeared to have mistaken the referendum for a presidential election. "I'm here to vote for Mubarak", said Hamada, 24. "Calls for boycott have failed. Egypt's people, who are stubborn, have refused to be told what to do", Senate President Safwat Al-Sherif said. Parliament Speaker Fathi Surur said he was optimistic that Egyptians would not miss this historic opportunity. "According to the reports we have so far, thousands of people cast their votes and this is a healthy sign", said Surur. "We will listen to people's demand and will let them have the final word", he said. Egypt's biggest opposition parties - the Wafd, Tagmmua, the Nasserist, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Ghad - boycotted the elections saying the reforms did not go far enough. Meanwhile, clashes occurred in Cairo's downtown between pro-Mubarak demonstrators and protesters from the Kefaya (Enough) movement resulting in some injuries. Kefaya said that two of their members were beaten up during the scuffles and that police forces stood watching. Kefaya spokesman Abdel Halim Qandil said 10 members of Kefaya were arrested during the demonstrations and 20 members of other oppositions groups were rounded up in Cairo and other north-western provinces.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:May 28, 2005
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