Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Mubarak leading in vote count

EGYPTIAN POLL A key rival said he would challenge the results and call for a rerun of Wednesday's election, which was marred by a low turnout and reports of intimidation

AGENCIES , CAIRO

President Hosni Mubarak took an overwhelming early lead in Egypt's first-ever contested presidential race, an election commission official said yesterday, as the official count of ballots continued.

With votes counted in half of the country's polling stations, Mubarak had taken at least 70 percent of the vote, said the electoral commission official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge results. The remaining votes were shared between the two principal challengers, Ayman Nour of the al-Ghad Party and Noaman Gomaa of the Wafd Party, the official said.

Nour charged the elections "are not fair at all," and vowed to reject rigged results.

"We will call for ... a re-election," Nour told the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera yesterday.

A Mubarak win had long been forecast. For many, the process of Wednesday's election was more important than the results. The poll tested the government's commitment to reform and the US push for greater democracy in the Middle East.

The government had promised a clean vote, but polling was marred by widespread reports of pressure and intimidation for voters to support Mubarak.

The election was also marred by low turnout. The authorities did not give an official figure, but the electoral commission official said turnout was about 30 percent. The same percentage was given yesterday by an official in Mubarak's campaign headquarters, also speaking anonymously. Several independent monitoring groups said during Wednesday's polling that turnout appeared poor.

If that figure holds, and it turns out that 70 percent of the country's 32 million registered voters did not take part, it would indicate that most Egyptians did not have sufficient faith in the election to vote.

Opposition party members, human rights monitors and citizens said some poll officials in Luxor and other towns instructed voters to choose Mubarak. In Cairo and Alexandria, supporters of the ruling National Democratic Party promised food or money to poor people if they voted for Mubarak, voters said.

The government played down reports of problems, saying they did not diminish what they called a major step toward democracy.

"There may be some comments, maybe some violations happened, but we have to agree that we're seeing an experience that we can build on for a future that realizes more freedom and more democracy in the Egyptian society," Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi told reporters after polls closed late on Wednesday night.

The electoral commission official and the Mubarak campaign officer said that as counting was proceeding faster than expected, final results would probably be announced later today rather than tomorrow.

The 77-year-old Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 24 years. His government has said the contested election will open the door to more democratic reforms, but many have been skeptical he will really loosen his grip on power. Most major opposition parties boycotted the vote, saying he held an unfair advantage in the polls because of his government's domination of politics.

There were widespread charges of voter fraud and intimidation -- though not the level of violence and flagrant rigging that have marred parliamentary votes.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, which formed a coalition with other groups to put monitors at polls, said ruling party officials were allowed into some polling stations in Alexandria and forced voters to choose Mubarak.

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