CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt”s opposition has cried foul after official results for the country”s first contested presidential poll gave Hosni Mubarak a whopping 88 percent of the vote which only attracted a low turnout.
Official results announced late Friday by presidential election commission chairman Mamduh Marai gave the 77-year-old leader 88.5 percent and put the turnout at only 23 percent.
"Mubarak”s score is unprecedented in pluralist elections … It demonstrates the people have faith in him, acknowledge his achievements and believe in his vision for the future," said Safwat al-Sherif, secretary general of Mubarak”s National Democratic Party.
The score, only marginally lower than when Mubarak was re-elected in Egypt”s previous policy of holding single-candidate presidential referenda, exceded most expectations and left his two closest rivals seething with anger.
Ghad party leader Ayman Nur clinched second place with a paltry 7.6 percent in Wednesday”s elections but challenged the results, claiming he had secured four times as many votes.
"We will not take these rigged results into consideration, we will take into consideration the will of the people," he told AFP.
Nur said estimates based on his party representatives” exit polls and assessments by judges manning the polling stations gave him between 30 and 38 percent of the vote.
"This is a fraud aimed at eliminating the only candidate who will still be alive for the 2011 presidential election," said the 40-year-old lawyer, who was by far the youngest candidate.
The result nevertheless makes him the unofficial leader of the opposition.
Wafd party chairman Numan Gumaa, who came third with around three percent, also accused the regime of having tampered with the results but was in a less combative mood.
"No candidate would have obtained such a score in a democratic country … September 7 was like a traditional election day in Egypt, like every other election organised by the military regime," he told AFP.
But he stressed the low turnout proved that "the Egyptian people does not trust the regime".
The Muslim Brotherhood — Egypt”s best organised opposition force which was barred from running — alleged even the low turnout figure had been tampered with.
"The information we got suggested that turnout was around 15 percent … but this will obviously undermine the legitimacy of the vote," one of the movement”s top leaders, Mohammed Habib, told AFP.
Mubarak won the vote of less than 20 percent of the electorate and the 6.3 million people who cast their ballot in his favour represent just 8.6 percent of Egypt”s overall population.
Opposition parties and movements such as the Kefaya (Enough) group which boycotted the election, were planning demonstrations Saturday to protest against a fifth term for Mubarak.
Forced voting, paid voters, unmanned polling stations, missing indelible ink and the use of public transport to ferry voters to polling stations were some of the accusations levelled against Mubarak supporters on election day.
But the electoral commission was satisfied with the polling process and many observers, while acknowledging some irregularities, took heart in the fact that Egypt”s first brush with democracy passed without any major incidents.
The United States, which put pressure on Mubarak to clear the way for contested elections, had welcomed the vote but said it should only be the beginning.
Commenting before the official results were announced, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed Washington now expected Mubarak to come good on his promise to abolish the state of emergency he imposed 24 years ago.
French President Jacques Chirac congratulated Mubarak on his re-election and described the poll as an important stage for democracy in Egypt."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder went further by claiming Mubarak had "obtained a conclusive mandate for the pursuit of your policies at a decisive moment for your country and the whole region".
The three-week campaign introduced a new tone in the Egyptian political debate, with editorialists, cartoonists, opposition activists and ordinary Egyptians for the first time directly challenging Mubarak.