|At stake in Egyptian elections are 64 newly female quota seats contested by 380 women candidates [Reuters]
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition bloc in the outgoing parliament, said on Monday that it won no seats outright in the first round of a vote it said was rigged. It said a few candidates would stand in a run-off.
The Brotherhood is the main rival of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in Sunday's elections, and its candidates run as independents to skirt a ban on religious parties.
The Brotherhood was contesting 30 per cent of the lower house seats after winning an unprecedented fifth of seats in 2005. The group said before the vote that it did not expect to repeat its 2005 performance, but its early estimate, provided before official results expected on Tuesday, suggests a crushing defeat.
But opposition groups have long said they expect President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP to tighten its grip on power and increase its already two-thirds majority, further marginalising competing voices.
The Brotherhood, which is officially banned but holds nearly 20 per cent of the outgoing parliament and ran 130 candidates this year as independents, staged demonstrations around the country overnight on Sunday to protest what they view as a corrupt government and electoral system.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera that in Mansoura, a city in the Nile Delta, 10 men brandishing knives jumped out of a microbus and attacked the crowd on Sunday.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but Brotherhood supporters, including one man who had been granted access to the station as a vote monitor, alleged that supporters of local NDP candidate Mohamed Basyuni then entered the station and, as the police stood by, forged 150 to 300 ballots.
The Brotherhood and other observers reported widespread fraud, and reports described a voting process that seemed to adhere to no standard set of rules and varied widely from district to district and polling place to polling place.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, noted several kinds of rule-breaking around the country on Sunday: candidates illegally campaigned outside a polling station and in sites of religious worship; opposition supporters were inexplicably denied entry to polls; polling stations shut down early; voters were reportedly assigned pre-filled ballots obtained by party organisers in order to cast them and retrieve new, unmarked ballots to repeat the process.
Rules for monitoring the vote appeared to be malleable and subject to the discretion of local police commanders.
The Egyptian government said it had granted more than 6,000 permits to 76 civil society groups that applied for their members to observe the vote from inside polling stations, but Mubarak administration officials had also hotly rebuffed every attempt, including by the US, to push for international monitors.
The government also declined to ensure that judges would be available to monitor the process. Experts have said that judicial supervision of the last parliamentary vote, in 2005, was a major reason that the Muslim Brotherhood was able to win an unprecedented amount of seats in first part of a three-stage voting process.
This year, the government has made no accommodation to allow judges time or ability to visit multiple voting locations, and the power to question poll workers. Certifying results lies firmly in the hands of the High Elections Commission (HEC), made up of 11 commissioners.
On Sunday, the HEC ordered 16 polling stations across five governorates closed due to reports of violations and violence.
Analysts had said the government would seek to move its most vocal critic in parliament to the sidelines of official politics as it prepares for a presidential election in 2011.
By Monday morning, election officials in Mansoura had already released preliminary results delivering the district’s two seats to candidates from the NDP.
Though more than 5,000 candidates were running, including 380 women competing for 64 newly created female quota seats, turnout was reportedly very low in a country where 41 million are registered to vote.
Certified results for the country’s 254 districts will not be announced until Wednesday, however, individual districts are free to release their totals at any time.
A run off vote will be will be held on Dec. 5.
Additional reporting by Evan Hill