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Egypt votes on divisive draft constitution

Final round of voting is underway on the new Islamist-backed charter that critics claim is polarising the nation.
Last Modified: 22 Dec 2012 18:43

Polling stations opened in Egypt in the second and final round of a referendum on a new constitution that was drafted by an assembly dominated by Islamists and that the opposition says is polarising the nation.

After a first round vote last week, polls opened on Saturday in areas analysts expected would give another "yes" vote.

The vote is taking place in 17 of Egypt's 27 provinces with about 25 million eligible voters.

The latest polls had been scheduled to close at 17:00 GMT but will now remain open until 23:00 GMT. Voting was also extended in the first leg.

The vote comes a day after clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

The violence, which hurt several dozen people, is the latest episode in more than four weeks of turmoil over the president's powers and the constitution.

The proposed new constitution has deeply divided Egypt, with supporters of Egypt's elected president backing the new documents, and mainly liberal opponents decrying it as too partisan.


The first phase on December 15 produced a "yes" majority of about 56 percent with a turnout of some 32 percent, according to unofficial results.

A comfortable "yes'' majority would strengthen Morsi and his Islamist backers.

The opposition, however, said voting in the first round was littered with abuses. But officials overseeing the poll have said there were no major irregularities.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Saturday, Seif Allah al-Khawanky, of the National Salvation Front, said the low turnout is "an act of showing the rejection to this project, which they don't believe in." 

"The legitimacy of this referendum is really questionable," al-Khawanky said. "No one was represented except one group in drafting this constitution."  

Morsi and his backers say the new constitution is needed to seal a transition from decades of military-backed autocratic rule, while opponents say it ignores the rights of women and minorities, including the 10 percent of Egyptians who are Christian.

A leading Muslim Brotherhood official dismissed concerns that the new constitution will lead to greater division or upset Egypt's fragile political balance. 

"Egypt is not divided and is not facing any internal dangers," said Essam El-Erian, the deputy head of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.

"In reality Egypt is now on the verge of building a new political system that will be open to all political forces," he said.

Widespread demonstrations erupted when Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers on November 22, and then fast-tracked the constitution through a drafting assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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