Egypt approves constitutional changes

Package of nine changes endorsed by overwhelming vote, paving the way for parliamentary elections later this year.

Egypt ink
The “yes” vote paves the way for a quick parliamentary election later this year [Reuters]

Egyptians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a package of constitutional amendments, according to official results released on Sunday evening.

Slightly more than 77 per cent of voters endorsed the amendments, the country’s supreme judicial committee has announced.

Roughly 18 million Egyptians went to the polls on Saturday, a 41 per cent turnout. It’s a better result than many past elections: The country’s fraud-plagued parliamentary ballot last year had less than 25 per cent turnout, and possibly as low as 10 per cent, according to some sources.

The committee said that 171,190 votes were invalidated, though it did not say why. There were reports on Saturday that some ballots did not carry the required official stamp.

Voters approved a package of nine amendments, about half of which deal with elections. One loosens the requirements for independent candidates seeking the presidency; another restores full judicial oversight for elections.

Other provisions limit the presidency to two four-year terms (currently, there is no limit), and require a public referendum for any state of emergency that lasts longer than six months (the country has been under one for the last 30 years).

Quick elections

The “yes” vote also paves the way for a quick parliamentary election, which the ruling military junta has said will be held in June.

Egypt’s two main political forces, the former ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, both urged a “yes” vote on the referendum. Critics say that’s because they benefit from the quick timetable for elections.

As established political parties, they will have an edge in mobilising resources and fielding candidates.

The rest of the country’s opposition parties all pushed for a “no” vote, as did the coalition of youth activists who led the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

One of the provisions, the revised article 189, requires the new parliament to appoint a constitutional assembly within six months of taking office. That group will be responsible for drafting an entirely new constitution, which – if approved in a separate referendum – would take effect next year.

Egypt’s existing constitution, though amended, remains suspended: It does not allow for military rule, so the junta suspended it shortly after taking power.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from the capital, Cairo, said the big question now is what happens next.

“The wheels of democracy in Egypt are moving fast,” she said.

“But that is worrying a lot of the parties – the youth groups, the new parties, who are saying a few months simply isn’t enough time to organise themselves and come up with a charter and be able to compete in these elections.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies