Egypt's Islamists say they might withdraw from vote

CAIRO Tue Nov 30, 2010 3:48pm EST

Mohamed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, talks during a news conference in Cairo November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Mohamed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, talks during a news conference in Cairo November 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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CAIRO (Reuters) - The Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday it might withdraw from Egypt's parliamentary election after failing to win a single seat in a first round of voting it said was rigged in favor of President Hosni Mubarak's party.

The group, which is outlawed by a ban on religious parties, had 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, about a fifth of the assembly, making it by far the biggest opposition bloc.

After winning no seats outright in Sunday's poll, it said 26 of its candidates made it to run-offs to be held on December 5. It had earlier put the number at 27. The group fields candidates as independents to skirt the ban.

The government wants to push its vocal Islamist critics to the margins of formal politics before next year's presidential race, analysts said. Mubarak, 82, in power since 1981, has not said if he will run again in 2011.

"We are currently discussing whether we will continue to run in the run-off or withdraw," Essam al-Erian, a senior member of the Brotherhood, told Reuters after a news conference.

Some analysts say silencing the group in the assembly may provide ammunition for radicals who believe the Brotherhood's declared strategy of employing only peaceful means to achieve a democratic Islamic state has failed.

"A younger, more radicalized generation of Islamists allied with the group's hardliners may question this strategy, and in their frustration seek other options," said IHS Global Insight analyst Sara Hassan.

WHITE HOUSE "DISAPPOINTED"

Rights groups and the opposition accused the authorities of ballot-stuffing, bullying and other fraudulent tactics in Sunday's first round.

The state High Elections Commission said it had annulled the counts from over 1,000 ballot boxes but that irregularities would not affect the overall figures.

The official first-round results were still awaiting validation from the commission's chairman, the body's spokesman said late on Tuesday.

Official turnout was over 35 percent. Rights groups who sent monitors to polling stations said it was half that.

Amnesty International said there were eight election-related deaths and scores of injuries, mostly during clashes between rival parties. Fourteen were killed during the lower house elections in 2005, which were spread over a month.

The White House criticized the conduct of Sunday's elections, citing "worrying" problems with restrictions on poll monitors, the press and on freedom of speech.

"What happened on Sunday was catastrophic. According to our survey, polling stations in which vote-rigging took place had a 97 percent turnout," Saad al-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood's bloc in the outgoing parliament, told a news conference. He has lost a seat he won in 2005 with a hefty majority.

Mubarak's National Democratic Party had been expected to secure a majority in parliament, as it has for decades. State media said results so far indicated the ruling party was cruising to victory.

Mubarak's government has long been wary of any group with Islamist leanings. It quelled an Islamic insurgency in the 1990s and Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat was gunned down by Islamic militants during a military parade in 1981.

A spokeswoman for the liberal Wafd party said her group had secured three seats in the first round -- fewer than it previously claimed -- with a further nine going to a run-off.

(Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Andrew Roche)

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