September 8, 2005 in Nation/World

Mubarak almost certain winner

Mariam Fam Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Hosni Mubarak, leader of the ruling National Democratic party, talks to his party officials at the operation room of his party campaign in Cairo Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

CAIRO, Egypt – For the first time Egyptian voters had a choice of candidates for president Wednesday in an election the United States hopes will be a key step toward democracy across the Middle East.

But the ballot was marred by charges of fraud and the near-certainty the vote would merely give longtime President Hosni Mubarak another six years of power.

Opposition party members, human rights monitors and citizens told the Associated Press that election workers at polling places in Luxor and other towns instructed voters to choose Mubarak. In Cairo and Alexandria, supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party promised food or money to poor people if they voted for Mubarak, voters said.

The leading opposition candidate, Ayman Nour, charged the elections “are not fair at all,” and vowed to reject rigged results.

However, a top official in another major opposition party, El-Sayed el-Badawy, said that while fraud and intimidation were apparent, “This is the first time for a president to reach out to the citizens and ask for their support. This is a positive thing.”

Osama Attawiya, spokesman for the country’s election commission, said the panel had received no major complaints or reports of problems.

Nine candidates ran against Mubarak this time, but only two were considered significant – Nour of the al-Ghad Party and Noaman Gomaa of the Wafd – and the president was expected to win handily. Final results were not due until Saturday.

El-Badawy and several independent monitoring groups said they thought turnout was low, contrary to government predictions of high turnout. The number of voters might indicate whether recent calls for reform have shaken Egyptians out of an apathy generated by years of stagnation.

Until now, the 77-year-old Mubarak has been re-elected in referendums in which he was the only candidate and voters could only choose “yes” or “no” to his continuing in power.

The government said the decision to allow challengers signals a move toward greater democracy in a country that has seen only authoritarian rule for more than a half-century.

Opponents dismissed the reform claims as a sham, noting that Mubarak’s party controls most of the government, including the election process, and that restrictions make it difficult for opponents to gain ground. The country’s biggest Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is banned entirely.

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