CAIRO, 9 Aug. (IPS) As expected, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak won Egypt's first popular election that contenders and opponents says was rigged, but most analysts, including the opposition agrees that opens a new era in the Egyptian political life.
According to the electoral commission, the 77 years-old Mobarak took 78 percent to 80 percent of Wednesday's polling and opposition candidate Ayman Nour came second, with 12 percent of the votes, a rating that analysts says is a respectable showing for a relative unknown candidate.
Despite government promises of a clean race, reports were widespread of pressure and intimidation.
Despite government promises of a clean race, reports were widespread of pressure and intimidation for voters to support the outgoing President in a race that also was marred by low turnout.
Protesting “widespread” irregularities, Mr. Nour demanded a rerun of the race. Nagui al-Ghatrifi, deputy head of the opposition’s al-Ghad Party told reporters that “based on the “grave violations that influenced the integrity of the election process we demanded, out of concern national interest that elections be repeated”
The “Wafd” newspaper which is the organ of the opposition published a list of alleged irregularities, such as voters obtaining a ballot by producing only their national identity card instead of a voter's card and reported of some voters received ballots with a mark next to Mobarak's name or opposition party representatives expelled from polling stations and that government vehicles mounted with loudspeakers campaigned for Mobarak on polling day etc.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, which formed a coalition with other groups to install poll monitors, said ruling party officials were allowed into some polling stations in Alexandria and forced voters to choose Mobarak.
Most major opposition parties boycotted the vote, saying he held an unfair advantage in the polls because of his government's domination of politics. However, the abuses would not have affected the overall result, said several monitoring groups and observers.
While Wednesday's election did not see the violence and vote-rigging allegations of past contests, opposition party members, human rights monitors and voters told The Associated Press that people across the country were pressured, enticed or instructed to vote for Mobarak.
But Electoral commission spokesman Osama Attawiya has denied any electoral violations and added that the panel had received no major complaints or reports of problems.
The election commission official said that voter turnout was around 30 percent. Mobarak's campaign gave the same figure and several independent monitoring groups said during Wednesday's polling that turnout appeared poor.
If that figure holds, and it turns out that 70 percent of the country's 32 million registered voters did not take part, it would indicate that most Egyptians did not have sufficient faith in the process.
Nevertheless, the paper’s editor Abbas al-Tarabily applauded the election as a “breakthrough”. "What Egypt is experiencing now confirms that Egyptians have stepped on to the threshold of real democracy, of political participation, of freedom of speech and freedom of expression", he wrote in his editorial.
"Egypt today is not what it was yesterday, and we have to maintain this great democratic gain", al-Tarabily added, referring to the strongman who has ruled Egypt for the past 24 years.
“There may be some comments, maybe some violations happened, but we have to agree that we're seeing an experience that we can build on for a future that realizes more freedom and more democracy in the Egyptian society,'' Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi told reporters after polls closed late Wednesday.
The nation's first open race came amid Washington's push for greater democracy in the Middle East, and while a Mobarak win had been long forecast, the election process was, for many, more important than the results.
Cairo played down reports of irregularities, saying they did not diminish a major step toward reforms.
Egypt today is not what it was yesterday, and we have to maintain this great democratic gain
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Bush administration was following the election closely. He called the vote ``a beginning.''
“These elections really mark a historic departure for Egypt, in the fact that you have multi-candidate presidential elections. I think it's safe to say that Egyptians have not seen a presidential election like the one they have just seen in their lifetimes,'' he said.
In one sign of the changes sweeping Egypt, more than 3,000 people marched through downtown Cairo to protest Mubarak - by far the largest crowd ever drawn by the group Kifaya, or “Enough'' in Arabic. Police watched from a distance despite government vows to block protests. Two demonstrators were beaten by government supporters.
Despite the importance of the event for the local political elite of Egypt, the elections did not arouse much interest in the outside world, including Arab countries, observers noted, explaining that news of the devastating Katrina hurricane in the United States, the ever increase in the oil prices, difficulties the European Union faces etc left few place for the Egyptian elections.
For the pro-government press, the Wednesday race has already turned a new page in the political life of the nation.
Al-Goumhouriya see a « triumph » for Mr. Mobarak while “Al Ahram” believes that Egypt has « entered the era of elected presidents ».
« Despite some irregularities, Egypt has a sweet taste of elections », wrote the independent « Al Masri al-Yom », reflecting the opinion of most observers critical of the voting. “At last, we have political debate in this country and this alone is much more important that the results, which were known to everyone”, commented Hala Moustafa of the “Al-Dimougratiya” weekly magazine. ENDS EGYPT ELECTIONS 9905