KAFR EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, (Reuters) – Riot police restricted access to some polling stations in the final stage of Egyptian elections on Thursday in what the Islamist opposition said was an attempt to cap its gains in parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood has increased its seats in the chamber more than fivefold in voting so far, exceeding the expectations of its own leadership and posing the strongest challenge to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
Riot police surrounded a polling station in the Nile Delta town of Kafr el-Sheikh and let only a trickle of voters through their lines to cast ballots.
"I”m going to vote for the Brotherhood but they”re only letting NDP supporters in," said one of about 400 people waiting to vote.
Police arrested more than 550 Brotherhood activists this week in what the group also said was an attempt to weaken its chances. The Brotherhood, which had 15 seats in the outgoing parliament, has won 76 of 444 elected places so far.
The NDP has boosted its number of seats by readmitting winners who broke party lines to stand as independents against officially endorsed party candidates. The ruling party has 214 seats so far, state media reported on Thursday.
The final stage, which is spread over two days, will decide 136 seats.
The Brotherhood, which is officially banned, is contesting only 49 places as part of its strategy not to provoke the authorities.
Islamist candidates stand as independents.
The Brotherhood said police had closed four polling stations and detained campaign workers in Kafr el-Sheikh. Islamist activists were also arrested in Damietta and candidates” delegates were unable to monitor polling, the Brotherhood said.
Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera said security forces detained for half an hour its crew covering the election in Kafr el-Sheikh and destroyed their tape.
Police detained and harassed journalists and confiscated their equipment in the last stage of voting. At least one reporter was attacked by police.
But voting has so far been less violent than in the last elections in 2000, when 10 people were killed. Two people have so far died this year in election-related violence.
Run-offs between the top two candidates will be held on Dec. 7 for seats where no candidate wins a clear majority.