Mubarak wins first presidential race; election officials dismiss claims of fraud
CAIRO, Egypt – President Hosni Mubarak swept Egypt’s first contested race for his job, according to preliminary results Thursday, an expected victory in an election praised as progress toward democratic reform despite allegations of fraud.The election commission – criticized as controlled by Mubarak’s government – insisted Wednesday’s ballot was a success, though there were widespread reports of irregularities, and voter turnout was perhaps as low as 30 percent. The commission also dismissed calls by the runner-up for a repeat of the vote.In office for 24 years, Mubarak had been expected to win Wednesday’s election by a wide margin. But his government has insisted the important thing was the process, saying the election heralds more reforms in this key U.S. ally, which has seen only autocratic rule for 50 years.Opponents dismissed the ballot, skeptical that Mubarak will give up his long unquestioned power. Until now, the president has been re-elected in “yes-no” referendums in which he was the only candidate.Washington, eager for Mubarak to conduct reforms but wary of pressing too hard, showed its approval.U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted some “issues” in the balloting – monitors allowed in only at the last minute and campaign ads present at some polling sites. Still, he called it a “positive first step.””What we hope is that the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people can build upon … the positive actions in this election as they look toward parliamentary elections in the fall, and look to addressing some of those issues that I mentioned that were less positive,” he said.Mubarak took 78-80 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count, an election commission official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to announce results. Final results were expected Friday or Saturday.His top opponent, Ayman Nour of the opposition Al-Ghad party, took 12 percent – a strong showing for a relative unknown and one that could make him a more formidable political power.The state newspaper El-Gomhoriya reported similar results in its Friday edition, saying Mubarak had won with 80 percent and that Nour came in second, though it did not give his percentage.Nour wrote to the elections commission with a list of alleged voting irregularities and demanded a repeat of the vote, citing the “grave violations that … influenced the integrity of the election process,” his deputy, Nagui el-Ghatrifi, told reporters.Commission spokesman Osama Attawiya said the commission “examined the request,” met with Nour and in the end rejected his appeal.Attawiya said the commission concluded that the alleged violations presented by Nour “are not correct.” Many reform-minded judges have accused the commission of being under the ruling party’s domination.”There have been no violations and there are no doubts in the election process,” Attawiya told a press conference. “There is always the first step or the first experiment followed by progress in the next step. In Egypt, thank God, we are making some progress.”Nour was not immediately available for comment. His top deputy, Wael Nawara, said the candidate was disappointed that the commission dismissed reports of irregularities.The 40-year-old lawmaker came in second despite forgery charges against him that he says the government concocted to wreck his candidacy and widespread dismissal of him by government media.Throughout the campaign, the media took pains to portray Noaman Gomaa, leader of al-Wafd party, as the more serious contender to the 77-year-old Mubarak. Gomaa, 71, won between five and seven percent of the vote, according to the commission official.A representative of Gomaa’s campaign, Cherif Abaza, said it is still early to “say for sure if elections were fair or if there was rigging.”Ordinary voters, opposition parties and some monitoring groups reported widespread pressure and incentives for people to back Mubarak. For example, ruling party officials were present in some stations as people voted, pro-Mubarak posters were rife at polling stations, and tribal leaders in some areas reported being told by police to make sure their followers backed the president.Voter turnout was low. No final figure was announced yet, but the commission official put it at around 30 percent of the country’s 32 million registered voters.If that figure is confirmed, it would indicate that most Egyptians did not have sufficient faith in the electoral process to take part.Vail – Colorado
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