Egypt: boycott, irregularites mar “reform” vote

A package of amendments to Egypt’s constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a nationwide referendum March 27—but with only 27% turn-out due to a popular boycott. The country’s leading rights group, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, put the figure even lower, estimating that only 2-3 percent of the electorate had voted five hours before polls closed. Ironically, Hosni Mubarak praised the vote: “I would like to stress that democracy is not achieved only through the constitutional and legal texts, but by the real expansion of grassroot participation.”

The 34 amendments abolish emergency laws and allow election supervision by an independent commission—but also ban political parties based on religion, a measure obviously aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood. President Hosni Mubarak said such changes would “give a new push to political party activity” and “stop the exploitation of religion and illegal political behavior.”

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and the Hisham Mubarak Law Center accused the government of widespread stuffing of ballot boxes. At several polling stations, the government reportedly bused in public employees to cast ballots. In the southern Cairo district of Helwan, dozens of workers from state-owned military factories arrived at a polling station in four buses. (AP, March 28)

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