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Egypt liberals end electoral pact with Islamists

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CAIRO: Egypt’s leading liberal party Al-Wafd has scrapped an electoral alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest political force, because it wants to field more candidates than the tie-up would have allowed, said a senior Al-Wafd official.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood’s political wing, and Al-Wafd led an alliance of 34 parties from across the political spectrum that planned to coordinate on lists of candidates for the first elections since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from office in a popular uprising.

"The party’s higher committee unanimously decided to contest elections in a separate list and member parties of the alliance should choose to join either (the FJP or Al-Wafd) lists," Essam Sheha, member of Wafd’s higher committee, told Reuters.

Egyptian politics were dominated for decades by Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic Party which was widely accused of ballot stuffing, vote buying and intimidation.

The well-organized Brotherhood was banned from formal politics but ran candidates as independents.

The army generals now ruling the country have pledged a transition to democracy and the elections will test whether the political forces unleashed by Mubarak’s overthrow will cooperate enough to allow for stable government.

Tensions have emerged between liberals and Islamists over Egypt’s planned new constitution to be drafted by a constituent assembly appointed by parliament.

Islamic groups including the Brotherhood staged a mass protest on July 29 demanding the application of Islamic sharia law.

Fourteen Liberal and Leftist groups have formed a coalition called the "Egyptian Bloc" calling for a civil state in which the principles of sharia are the main source of legislation.

Al-Wafd’s leadership has faced internal opposition from members and criticism from liberal groups over the alliance with the Brotherhood. Two members of its higher committee have resigned from their posts.

Sheha denied that the decision to quit the electoral alliance was based on an ideological dispute. "We withdrew from the electoral alliance because we had a lot of candidates and the available places in the list weren’t enough," he said.

Cooperation with the Brotherhood would continue in other areas, he said, and a meeting of the alliance would take place on Saturday.

Political parties had demanded that all seats in parliament be allocated to candidates on party lists, instead of the two thirds as now stipulated under the election law.

The result is that there are fewer spaces for candidates on the party lists than the parties had hoped for.

The alliance parties as well as other groups threatened to boycott the elections unless the ruling military council makes changes to the elections laws that would prevent members of Mubarak’s disbanded party to run in the elections but retracted shortly after concessions from the council.

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