Court lets civil society groups monitor poll

CAIRO (AP) — A court ruled Saturday that civil society groups will be allowed to monitor Egypt’s historic multi-candidate presidential election set down for next week.
The administrative court also referred articles for a controversial law regulating Wednesday’s first-ever presidential vote to a court to determine their constitutionality. Both decisions, which can be appealed, were seen as victories for nongovernmental organisations wanting to monitor the landmark vote and independents challenging the elections law.

The court also ruled that one of nine opposition candidates challenging President Hosni Mubarak — Wahid Luxuri of the Egypt Arab Socialist party — be eliminated from the race and repay a 500,000 Egyptian pound (about $87,000) state-provided campaign fund.

No reason was given, but the verdict was issued after another member of the same party contested Luxuri’s nomination. It was unclear if the committee charged with running the vote will uphold the order.

Mubarak, who has been Egypt’s president since 1981, is almost certain to win a fifth-term in Wednesday’s elections, which for the first time are open to more than one candidate.

Mubarak has been elected four times previously in referendums giving voters only “yes” or “no” to choose from. This system, plus other electoral practices, have been long criticised as undemocratic by local and foreign political activists.

Hafez Abu Saada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, said the court’s decision to let NGOs monitor the polls was a “triumph.” “The election cannot be considered fair and free unless it’s transparent with clear and public procedures,” Abu Saada told the Associated Press.

Abu Saada, however, said he feared the elections committee may challenge the verdict.

Civil society groups can monitor the vote from inside and outside polling stations under the supervision of the station’s head, the court ruled, adding that the decision to allow monitors was not part of the elections committee’s authorities.

Mubarak said Egyptian civil society groups were “guaranteed” to be allowed to follow the vote, adding that foreign and local media would also be present.

“Nothing can be hidden in the era of the open skies. The elections will be free, fair and transparent,” he told Masry Youm newspaper, in an interview carried by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency.

Local groups have been training thousands to monitor the vote without knowing if they would be allowed to observe the procedures from inside polling stations. In the past, parliamentary elections have been marred by allegations of rigging and irregularities.

Egyptian officials have dismissed foreign monitoring as an encroachment on the country’s sovereignty.

The administrative court handed down a wide-ranging verdict on 39 elections-related petitions, including an order that seven articles in the presidential elections law be referred to the supreme constitutional court. They include an article requiring independent presidential aspirants to collect 250 signatures from parliament and local councils dominated by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party for their nomination to be accepted.

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