CAIRO,(Reuters) – Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood said on Wednesday it had more than doubled its seats in parliament in the early stages of legislative elections, showing the group”s strength with two thirds of places still to be contested.
The voting for parliament”s 444 elected seats is not expected to end the ruling National Democratic Party”s (NDP) control of the chamber, but the Brotherhood wins underlined the status of political Islam as the strongest opposition force.
Deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib told Reuters his candidates had won 30 seats on Tuesday in run-offs, mostly against NDP members. He earlier gave the number as 29. They won four seats outright in the first day of voting last week.
"The result confirms in an unquestionable way that the Egyptian people stand behind the Brotherhood and that the Brotherhood really do represent the strongest social and political group in Egypt," Habib said.
The NDP won 26 seats last week and had taken 12 seats in Tuesday”s voting, according to partial results reported by Egypt”s state Middle East News Agency (MENA). Secular opposition parties had won three seats so far, it said.
The Brotherhood is officially outlawed but has made the most of unusual tolerance from the authorities in the last month to campaign openly for parliament. Its candidates have to compete as independents to sidestep the ban on the group.
"ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION"
The Brotherhood fielded 52 candidates in the first two days of voting and plans to contest about 110 of the 280 seats to be decided in four more days of voting lasting into December, Habib said.
Campaigning under the slogan "Islam is the Solution," the Brotherhood aims to bring legislation into line with Islamic laws. It also calls for more political freedoms in Egypt, ruled by President Hosni Mubarak since 1981.
The Brotherhood had 15 seats in the outgoing parliament, which was elected in 2000 after security forces arrested some of its activists and blocked its supporters from voting.
The Islamist group was blocked from fielding a candidate in Egypt”s first multi-candidate presidential elections in September by tight terms on candidacy.
Mubarak, 77, won the election easily as expected. To field an independent candidate in presidential elections the Brotherhood would need the approval of 65 members of parliament. It would also need to win seats in other elected bodies.
Monitoring groups, which have had unprecedented access to this year”s parliamentary elections, have reported widespread violations in voting so far.
They included the illegal collective registration of state company employees in areas where they do not live. Monitors say the voters are rounded up and taken to polling stations to vote NDP.
Bribery and intimidation have also been reported.
But violence in this year”s elections has so far been less than in 2000, when 10 people were killed.
Supporters of an independent candidate attacked and burnt a ruling party office overnight in a poor Cairo district, witnesses and police said on Wednesday.