Egyptians went to the polls yesterday for second-round runoffs in a parliamentary election that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s party is poised to win almost unopposed in the face of an opposition boycott.
At one polling station in Cairo shortly after polls opened at 8am, police outnumbered the few voters waiting to cast their ballots, a photographer reported.
Egypt’s two main opposition blocs, the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd Party, withdrew from the race after official results from the first round on Nov. 28, gave the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) 90 percent of the seats decided outright.
The conduct of the election drew criticism from human rights watchdogs, which fielded -observers, and also from the US.
The opposition boycott of the second round leaves the ruling party with 383 candidates to compete mostly against rivals from within the same party for the remaining 283 seats.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the only serious opposition force, did not win a single seat in the first round. The group held a fifth of the seats in the outgoing parliament, fielding its candidates as independents to get around a ban on religious parties.
The Brotherhood’s decision to pull out its remaining 27 candidates from the second round marked its first boycott of an election since the 1990s, although it has complained of fraud in every election in which it has taken part.
The Wafd Party, which usually has working ties with the government, won two seats in the first round. In a rare display of resolve for the fractured party, it announced that it too would pull its candidates out of the second round.
Three other parties, which each won a seat in the first round, decided to keep their candidates in the race.
There are also 167 independent candidates on the ballots, according to the electoral commission, but that included the 27 Brotherhood members.
Analysts said the NDP appeared to have overplayed its hand by virtually wiping out the opposition, strengthening the impression of Egypt as a one-party state.
Egypt’s veteran president appoints 10 lawmakers in addition to the 508 elected members of parliament. Most of those seats are also expected to go to the ruling party.
“The pullout of the opposition adds to the legitimacy crisis. It means the opposition are no longer buying into the system. The damage done to the NDP is huge,” said Amr Hamzawi of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The ruling party insists the election has been free and argues that support for the Islamists in particular was exaggerated, according to its own opinion polls.
However, human rights groups say they gathered evidence of fraud and vote-buying in the first round, after a campaign which already made it very difficult for the NDP’s opponents to win seats.
Police arrested more than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters in the run up to the vote, drawing a protest from Washington, which usually avoids mention of the Islamists in its rare criticism of Cairo.