Low turnout mars Mubarak election victory

Incumbent Hosni Mubarak has swept to victory in Egypt’s first contested presidential poll, with almost 90% of the vote, but with less than one-quarter of voters turning out and opponents charging the results were rigged.

Official results announced by presidential election commission chairperson Mamduh Marai gave the 77-year-old leader a whopping 88,5% of the vote in Wednesday’s election and put the turnout at 23%.

“Mubarak’s score is unprecedented in pluralist elections ... It demonstrates the people have faith in him, acknowledge his achievements and believe in his vision for the future,” Safwat al-Sherif, secretary general of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, told the official Mena news agency.

Ghad party leader Ayman Nur clinched second place with a paltry 7,6% in Wednesday’s elections but challenged the results, claiming he had secured four times as many votes.

“We will not take these rigged results into consideration. We will take into consideration the will of the people,” he said.

He said estimates based on his party representatives’ exit polls and assessments by judges manning the polling stations gave him between 30% and 38% of the vote.

“This is a fraud aimed at eliminating the only candidate who will still be alive for the 2011 presidential election,” said the 40-year-old lawyer, by far the youngest candidate.

Wafd party chairperson Numan Gumaa, who came third with about 3%, accused the regime of having tampered with the results.

“No candidate would have obtained such a score in a democratic country ... September 7 was like a traditional election day in Egypt, like every other election organised by the military regime,” he said.

But he stressed that the low turnout proved that “the Egyptian people does not trust the regime”.

The Muslim Brotherhood—Egypt’s best-organised opposition force, which was barred from running—alleged even the turnout figure had been tampered with.

“The information we got suggested that turnout was about 15% ... but this will obviously undermine the legitimacy of the vote,” one of the movement’s top leaders, Mohammed Habib, said.

Mubarak won the vote of less than 20% of the electorate and the 6,3-million people who cast their ballot in his favour represent just 8,6% of the country’s overall population.

He was last re-elected in 1999 with 93% of the vote, but it was under a referendum system where Egyptians could only say yes or no to a single candidate nominated by Parliament.

A victory for Mubarak—who has been dubbed the “last pharaoh” and has already ruled Egypt for 24 years—was a foregone conclusion, but the turnout figure was always seen as key to his future legitimacy.

Forced voting, paid voters, unmanned polling stations, missing indelible ink and the use of public transport to ferry voters to polling stations were some of the accusations levelled against Mubarak supporters on election day.

But the electoral commission was satisfied with the polling process and many observers, while acknowledging some irregularities, took heart in the fact that Egypt’s first brush with democracy passed without any major incidents.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a former foreign minister and United Nations secretary general, insisted that the climate of the election had been generally positive.

“The electoral process proceeded normally and no intervention by the security in the voting process in a way that undermined the freedom of voters or secrecy of the voting was observed,” he said in a preliminary report on the poll.

Opposition parties had warned that most of the fraud could have taken place during the vote-counting process, which monitors have warned does not guarantee transparency.

The United States, which put pressure on Mubarak to clear the way for contested elections, welcomed the vote but said it should only be the beginning.

Mubarak “made promises to the Egyptian people. And we would expect that he follow through on those promises, one of which is the lifting of the state of emergency,” said US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack.

The three-week campaign introduced a new tone in the Egyptian political debate, with editorialists, cartoonists, opposition activists and ordinary Egyptians for the first time directly challenging Mubarak.

Egypt has tipped the election as a major step in democratising the region.

Among the first to congratulate Mubarak on his victory were the United Arab Emirates President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, and the Emir or Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.—Sapa-AFP

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