Egyptians vote for changes that will speed elections

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 20, 2011 

CAIRO — A majority of Egyptian voters — 77 percent — supported constitutional changes that will speed the country along to general elections within six months, according to results released Sunday after the first polls since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

Mohammed Ahmed Attiyah, head of the supreme judicial committee in charge of the vote, said 18.5 million Egyptians voted in favor of the changes, which strip away much of the broad executive powers and political restrictions of the Mubarak era.

Turnout was 41 percent, more than double the turnout in the last election under the former regime. Voters stood in long lines outside polling places for the referendum Saturday.

Whether for or against the proposed amendments, Egyptians were overjoyed at what they considered their first real vote, discounting the decades of rigged polls under Mubarak. Monitors reported no widespread fraud, but noted smaller irregularities and raised concern about the use of religion to persuade voters.

A power struggle is brewing between Islamists and Egyptians who seek a secular state. Both sides invoked religion in their campaigns ahead of the referendum, but the Islamists in particular hammered home the message that a "yes" vote was a vote for Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group and by far the best-organized bloc in the country, benefits from the quick fixes to the constitution. The coming elections would pit the veteran Brotherhood activists against loosely organized political groups that gelled during the 18-day revolution. There's also concern that the "yes" vote boosts the Brotherhood's nemesis, Mubarak's formerly ruling National Democratic Party, which seeks to regroup.

The amendments will relax the rules of political candidacy and limit executive powers — changes that activists across the spectrum have demanded for years.

The most notable changes include: four-year presidential term limits, full judicial oversight of elections, curbing emergency laws, more room for independent candidates, and the repeal of "terrorism" laws that were used under Mubarak to bypass civilian courts and justify open-ended detentions with no judicial involvement.

The reforms appeared on the ballot as a package, so the vote was for all or none.


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