January 17, 2014 in Nation/World

Egyptian vote turnout low

New constitution garners strong lead amid apathy
Laura King Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

An Egyptian woman dances in front of a polling station holding a poster of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in Cairo, Egypt, on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

CAIRO – In a lopsided margin reminiscent of elections held during ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak’s decades of rule, unofficial results Thursday indicated that Egypt’s new constitution was approved by nearly 98 percent of voters.

The military-backed interim government had campaigned vigorously for approval of the rewritten charter, casting it as a mandate on its six months in power. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, had called for a boycott of the two-day vote.

State media, citing unofficial tallies released by 26 of Egypt’s 27 governorates – roughly equivalent to counties – reported a turnout of just over 36 percent. That would just barely surpass the nearly one-third of eligible voters who cast ballots in the previous constitutional referendum, held during Morsi’s tenure. Some officials had voiced hopes for a much bigger turnout.

The unofficial count did not yet include the governorate of North Sinai, where army troops and police have been battling an Islamist insurgency, but the tally did include Cairo, the country’s main population center.

The new charter rolled back overtly Islamist provisions written into the constitution under Morsi, but enhanced the powers of security forces and the judiciary, which have been the driving force behind the interim government’s bid to crush the Brotherhood. The movement was declared a terrorist organization last month, and thousands of its followers have been killed or jailed.

With political dissent in Egypt having become extremely perilous, staying away from the polls was the only means available to most Egyptians for expressing opposition. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who is essentially running the country, said prior to the balloting that he would take a strong affirmative vote as a sign of the people’s will that he run for president.

Those who disapproved of the charter or el-Sissi were largely silent in the run-up to the vote. A tough law that took effect two months ago bans street protests not approved in advance by authorities. Prior to this week’s two-day referendum, police arrested at least seven people for putting up posters urging a no vote on the constitution.

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