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Egypt Rights Groups Dispute Vote Turnout - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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CAIRO, Egypt, (AP) -Turnout for a referendum on amendments to Egypt’s constitution last month was only five percent, far lower than the 27 percent reported by the government, Egyptian human rights groups said Tuesday.

Voting in the referendum was also marred by widespread fraud, including ballot box stuffing and voter bribing, the six rights groups said in a joint report.

The government has touted the amendments, which were passed in the March 26 referendum, as a democratic reform. But the opposition and rights groups condemned the changes, saying they restricted rights, cemented the hold on power by President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party and gave security forces broad powers of arrest.

“The most negative phenomenon was the weak turnout of voters because people did not know the content of the amendments and even those who voted did not know what they voted for,” said the summary of the report, which was faxed to The Associated Press. “Therefore the average of the turnout was five percent and in some polling stations was two to three percent.”

The rights groups, chief among them the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, had 1,200 observers at polling stations around the country.

The opposition boycotted the referendum on the 34 amendments, which were put to a public vote only a week after they were approved by parliament, raising charges the government wanted to push them through to approval. According to government figures, turnout was 27 percent, with 76 percent of participants voting ‘yes’ and 24 percent ‘no’.

The amendments establish an electoral committee to monitor elections, but opponents fear the body will not be independent and will reduce the role of judges in observing balloting — opening the door to more of the vote rigging that has plagued past elections.

The changes also give security forces investigating terror cases to arrest people and search homes without warrants, a measure many fear will be used against opponents of the government.

Other amendments ban the creation of political parties based on religion, a move to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood — the most powerful opposition movement — from forming a party.