But in a Sunday night news conference, the opposition National Salvation Front alleged there had been thousands of complaints of voting irregularities that “went beyond the rigging that used to take place under the previous regime.”
The group, a loose coalition of liberals, leftists and Christians that has emerged to challenge the ruling Islamists, called on Egyptians to protest on Tuesday “in order to defend their free will and to prevent any rigging of their decisions.”
The opposition’s reaction to its apparent defeat seemed to end any hopes that the referendum might bring calm to Egypt after weeks of clashes over both the substance of the new constitution and the hurried way it was put before voters.
The unofficial results of the first round reflected a narrower-than-expected victory for the charter, which was strongly backed by President Mohamed Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. Wider margins are forecast this coming Saturday during the second and final round of balloting, when voting shifts to smaller cities and more rural areas where Islamists have a clear edge.
“The Egyptian people have expressed their free will,” the Brotherhood’s political arm said in a statement. The group’s early vote tallies have proved accurate in past elections.
But opposition leaders quickly disputed the unofficial results, claiming that the referendum had actually been voted down by wide margins in the major cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Rights groups, meanwhile, said that the voting was inadequately monitored, and that some people had been prevented from casting their ballots. They called for a rerun of the referendum.
With Morsi staking his young government on the new charter, that was considered highly unlikely. In the weeks before the referendum, Morsi gave himself extraordinary powers as he maneuvered to bring the constitution to a vote. Resulting street clashes left at least 10 people dead and hundreds injured.
While much of Egypt was calm on Saturday during the vote, the unrest resumed overnight Saturday, with the liberal Wafd party claiming that its offices had been attacked by a group of hardline Islamists known as Salafists.
“The referendum has passed, but it doesn’t mean the end of the divide in this country,” said Gamal Soltan, a political science professor at the American University of Cairo. “The opposition may be demoralized in the short term, but the reasons for the anger are still there.”