CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians voted on Sunday in a run-off parliamentary election which President Hosni Mubarak’s party will win almost unchallenged after the two biggest opposition groups quit a contest they said was rigged.
The National Democratic Party (NDP), which has never lost a vote, is sure of a crushing victory after the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal Wafd party withdrew. The fiercest run-off races were where NDP candidates were pitted against each other.
The Brotherhood, the biggest opposition group with a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, won no seats in the first round. Wafd won just two. Egyptian monitors cited ballot box stuffing, voter intimidation by hired thugs and other abuses.
“I am boycotting these elections. They are a sham, anyone can see that,” said Mansour Abdel-Fattah, 22, a Brotherhood supporter from the Delta city of Mansoura. He was in Cairo and said he would not go home to vote, as he did in the first round.
Officials said voting in both rounds was fair, and any complaints were being checked but did not undermine the vote.
Final results after the run-offs are due out by December 8.
Analysts said the government wanted to shove Islamist and other critics out of the assembly to deny them a platform before the 2011 presidential election. That looming vote is fuelling debate about how much longer Mubarak, 82, can stay in power.
“The first round showed the government was not going to give any space to the opposition. The new people’s assembly is not for the people. It is simply another NDP committee with a single purpose: securing presidential succession in the 2011 vote,” Wafd party member Ashraf Balbaa told Reuters.
Officials suggest Mubarak, whose health has been under close scrutiny since gallbladder surgery in March, will extend his three-decade rule by seeking another six-year term if he can.
If not, many Egyptians say his son will run. Analysts question whether Gamal, 46, has the popularity among the masses or the military support to take over.
Investors are betting on a smooth leadership transition but say the government has betrayed unease before the presidential race by sweeping out almost all critics from the assembly.
“For the government to be getting more iron-fisted in its approach is never a good sign as it could represent weakness rather than strength,” said John Sfakianakis, Middle East and North Africa region chief economist for Credit Agricole.
The scale of the government’s first-round win last Sunday was a surprise. Political analysts had expected the Brotherhood to pick up at least some seats. Other opposition parties and independents won just 12 seats. The NDP won 209.
The United States, Egypt’s ally and a major aid donor, said it was “disappointed” by the conduct of the vote.
Egypt has dismissed the criticism. NDP spokesman Ali El Din Hillal said run-off voting had proceeded smoothly and “minor controversies did not exceed one or two incidents.”
Egyptian rights groups said monitors had spotted rigging in favor of some independent and opposition candidates, a move possibly aimed at giving parliament more diversity.
“They want the illusion of opposition, especially, after any credible and real opposition force withdrew from the election,” said Rahma Refaat from the Center for Trade Unions and Worker Services, part of a group monitoring the vote.
The Independent Coalition for Election Observation said its monitors saw ballot boxes stuffed with votes for a candidate of the small Tagammu party for one seat. Tagammu won one seat in the first round and had one seat in the last assembly.
Of the original 508 seats up for grabs, there were run-offs for 283 seats where no candidate won in the first round.
For many seats, NDP candidates are pitted against each other, as the ruling party fielded more candidates than seats for this election, partly in a bid to squeeze the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, which campaigns for an Islamic state, skirts a ban on religious parties by fielding candidates as independents. The group said this year that squeezing its moderate voice out could encourage militants to emerge.
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Alexander Dziadosz and Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Marwa Awad and Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff