CAIRO: Egyptians Tuesday went to the polls a day after violent clashes in the Delta town of Mahalla between security bodies and protestors demonstrating against rising food prices.
Rights groups reported an extremely low turnout for the local council elections, one group estimating that only about two percent of those eligible to vote did so.
The poll was boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the largest opposition bloc in the People’s Assembly.
Over 800 MB members were arrested and detained in the run-up to the election.
In a statement issued Monday, MB Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef, condemned the “abnormal measures he says are used by supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party to stop Brotherhood members from registering as election candidates.
“These practices indicate that we are not dealing with an ordinary political party, but with individuals who have no moral scruples to prevent them from violating the law and exploiting state institutions instead of carrying out their duties, Akef said in the statement.
He added that the decision to boycott the elections was made after court decisions annulling the elections in districts where potential candidates were prevented from running were not implemented.
Akef says in the statement that 1,000 such verdicts were issued.
“It is now clear that the party of corruption and tyranny is frightened of any fair competition. The result of this vote will either be the appointment of a majority of seats in favor of the ruling party, or a farcical competition between members of the same party, the statement continues.
Wire services reported that many of the 57,000 seats up for grabs on municipal councils had been filled even before polls opened at 8 am Tuesday morning because 90 percent of NDP candidates were running unopposed.
Local elections have gained significance since the 2005 constitutional amendments, which require potential presidential candidates to obtain the support of a minimum of 10 local council members in at least 14 governorates.
Observers and members of opposition groups reported violations by NDP officials during the polling process.
At a polling station in the Hadayek El-Kobba constituency, Saad Mohamed, a member of the ruling NDP, admitted to vote rigging.
He told Daily News Egypt that the NDP paid for 600 votes and will pay for another 1,000 in support of candidate Sayed Nasr, adding that it was already decided who would win the municipal seats in this constituency.
Twenty-three out of the 28 candidates on Hadayek El-Kobba’s municipal council election list have already been allocated to NDP candidates, he said, and the remaining five were given to independent and opposition candidates according to a prior arrangement with the NDP.
Other violations were reported around the country.
In Suez, the NDP handed out Quranic verses as part of their election propaganda, in violation of a decree by the Interior Minister which bans the use of religious symbols in election propaganda, Abdel Hamid Kamel of the Tagammu party told Daily News Egypt.
In Kafr El-Sheikh, NDP members used state-owned vehicles to distribute food and drink to party members in polling stations – which is also in violation of regulations, Kamel said.
The Egyptian Coalition for the Support of Democracy, an NGO, reports widespread incidents of election observers being prevented from entering polling stations throughout Egypt.
Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights Hafez Abu Saeda told Daily News Egypt that there was no election today.
There was no election today. Opposition parties were only able to field around 1,000 candidates – 2 percent of the total number of candidates – because the NDP has completely monopolized the political game in Egypt Abu Saeda said.
In addition there is no official judicial monitoring which is a signal to the people that the elections are not free and fair, he continued.
Abu Saeda said that the election has been marked with a series of irregularities.
We have been monitoring violations for weeks in the form of applications from potential election candidates being refused. Today our observers have reported incidents of voters being paid to cast their vote for the NDP, he said.
Abu Saeda said he is not surprised at the low turnout for the election.
Most people know that there is no real election: there are appointments, he said. -Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt reporter Michaela Singer.