Egypt picks parliament amid allegations of fraud

By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 5:18 PM

CAIRO - Members of Egypt's largest political opposition party braced for a bruising defeat in parliamentary elections held Sunday amid reports that proxies of the ruling party committed widespread fraud and prevented election monitors working for rival candidates from monitoring the polls.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders said government security forces and election officials kept their delegates from entering dozens of polling stations and prevented many of their supporters from casting ballots.

"The government has used all the means to prevent people from going to polling stations," Muslim Brotherhood campaign coordinator Mohammed Mursi said Sunday night as the polls were closing. "It seems the regime does not want to have real opposition in parliament."

The contest for the lower house of parliament's 508 seats is widely seen as a precursor for next year's presidential election, which could mark the first transition of power here in more than three decades.

It comes at a time of growing public anger over rising inflation and unemployment that has widened the country's income gap.

President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has been treated for undisclosed ailments. Many Egyptians assume he is grooming his 46-year-old son, Gamal, to succeed him, but the younger Mubarak is not widely liked within the ruling party.

The crackdown on the opposition has led Egyptians who favor a more open political system to criticize the Obama administration for what they call its lackluster commitment to expanding democratic freedom in the Middle East. Egypt is among the top recipients of U.S. aid, having received $1.55 billion this year.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Egyptian security forces detained hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and disqualified many of its candidates, an apparent effort to curb its political clout before a transition that could be destabilizing.

Muslim Brotherhood candidates won 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary election, its strongest showing in history. The party is nominally outlawed in Egypt, but it fields candidates as independents.

Because many of the secular opposition parties boycotted the vote, the ruling National Democratic Party is widely expected to secure near absolute control of parliament.

Opposition politicians and human rights activists said they recorded dozens of cases of ballot stuffing, vote buying and voter intimidation. Outside several key polling stations, bands of men in civilian clothes beat back voters and supporters of opposition candidates, in some instances working in coordination with police forces, human rights activists and witnesses said.

"It's a situation in which the ruling party has a relatively free hand to manipulate the results," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who was among the group's representatives monitoring the situation outside polling stations Sunday. "The government's objective seems to be to make voting simultaneously dangerous and futile to discourage everyone other than those mobilized by the ruling party from going to the polls."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company