November 29, 2010 / 1:27 PM / 9 years ago

Islamists say almost erased from Egypt assembly

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Monday a “rigged” election had all but wiped out its presence in parliament, virtually eliminating opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party before next year’s presidential vote.

The outlawed but partly tolerated Brotherhood held a fifth of seats in the outgoing lower house. The Islamists, who run as independents, are the main rivals of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) which has swept elections for decades.

Charges of ballot stuffing, bullying and other trickery marred Sunday’s vote. The government said the election was fair.

Rights groups said at least three people were killed on voting day. Officials on Sunday denied any election-related fatalities. A security source said one man had died on Monday of gunshot wounds inflicted in an election clash.

Official results are due on Tuesday.

None of the Brotherhood’s 130 candidates won in the first round of voting for the 508 seats at stake, Saad al-Katatni, the head of the Islamist bloc of 88 seats in the outgoing assembly, said. Only a few had progressed to a run-off on December 5.

“There was rigging and we filed an appeal about the voting procedure,” he added, referring to the loss of his own seat in Minya, south of Cairo, which he won in 2005 with 35,000 votes against the 12,000 won by his closest rival.

Analysts had predicted the government would push its Islamist critics to the margins of formal politics ahead of the presidential race. Mubarak, 82, has not said if he will run.

The group was nevertheless expected to retain up to 20 seats in the new parliament. Now it is not certain to keep any.

“This is a whole different level of rigging, manipulation and fraud, and it suggests that the regime is nervous about the impending transition (of power) and is not willing to take any chances,” said Shadi Hamid from the Brookings Doha Center.

Officials have indicated Mubarak, in power since 1981 and whose health has been under renewed scrutiny since gallbladder surgery in March, will seek a new term if able. If not, many Egyptians think his son, a top party official, will stand.

Investors have so far brushed off leadership worries, with the lure of Egypt’s sturdy growth outweighing uncertainty.

“They’ve had a few thousand years of political stability, they’re not going to let it slip now,” said Gabriel Sterne, economist at frontier markets brokerage Exotix.

SHUTTING OUT BROTHERHOOD

Political analyst Issandr El Amrani said Mubarak’s party had shown its intentions last week when it filed a suit challenging the Brotherhood’s ploy of running candidates as independents.

“Maybe this signals a deeper shift to not allowing the Brotherhood room in the political arena anymore,” he said.

The liberal Wafd party, which cannot match the Brotherhood’s grassroots network, was expected to win seats at its expense.

A Wafd spokeswoman said on Monday the party had won half a dozen seats so far, about the same as it secured in 2005. It later gained six more after some independents switched sides.

Hundreds of Brotherhood members were rounded up before the election. Senior members of the group had said they did not expect a repeat of its unprecedented success in the 2005 vote.

The High Elections Commission, a body of parliamentary nominees and judges, said a quarter of 41 million registered voters cast ballots. It said voting was fair and complaints were being checked but would not affect the vote’s integrity.

Magdy Abdel Hamid, head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, contested that turnout figure. He gave an estimate of no more than 10 percent, based on reports by 1,000 monitors in 40 of the 222 constituencies.

Rights groups complained their accredited monitors were often blocked from polling centers. They listed abuses such as filling ballot boxes in illegally closed voting stations.

“When elections are held in the dark ... it is likely that elections were rigged entirely,” Hafez Abou Saeda of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights told a news conference.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Joe Stork said armed men in plainclothes were a common sight and seemed to have easy access to polling stations.

“How they got in exactly, given the inability of the monitors and the representatives of candidates (to enter), is a bit of a mystery,” Stork said at the same news conference in Cairo. (Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Tom Pfeiffer; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Jon Hemming)

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