Egypt’s ruling party grabs nearly all senate seats

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party has won almost all the 16 seats in the runoff elections for Egypt’s upper house of parliament, according to official results and media reports on Tuesday.The balloting Monday came a week after the first round was marred by violence and accusations of vote manipulation.

Two state-owned dailies, Gomhuria and Ahram, were first to say in their Tuesday evening editions that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won 14 seats while the remaining two went to independents allied with the NDP.

Hence, the ruling party emerged with a total of 84 seats in the upper chamber, or Shura, leaving three seats for allied independents and one for a small leftist opposition party.

Adel Andrawis, head of the Supreme Election Committee, speaking on state television, later confirmed those results, described the election process as “an excellent performance of democracy.” However, Monday’s elections lacked the excitement of the first round two weeks ago, because no members of the Muslim Brotherhood — Egypt’s largest opposition group — took part.

The faction fielded 19 candidates in the initial round of voting, but failed to win any seats.

It was the first time the brotherhood had competed for Shura Council seats. Its participation was largely symbolic, aiming to show that the Islamic fundamentalist group remains a force, despite an increasing government campaign to drive it out of Egypt’s politics.

Gomhuria said the turnout was zero in two Coptic-dominated constituencies in the southern city of Aswan, and very low in other places. Seven voters cast ballots in two polling stations in the town of Kafr Sheikh. Six people were slightly injured in a fistfight between supporters of rival candidates in the southern town of Sohag.

The paper also reported instances of vote-buying in constituencies where competing candidates belonged to the same party, the NDP, and said that paying people to vote reportedly raised the turnout in some polling stations to 65 per cent.

But Andrawis said about 800,000 people out of more than four million eligible voters cast ballots and put the turnout was 19 per cent. He said the elections passed smoothly, with no serious disturbances.

In the first round of voting two weeks ago, one person was killed and several others injured in clashes between supporters of rival candidates. Police said authorities arrested 400 brotherhood members on election day.

At the time, the Supreme Election Committee said about 31 per cent of the country’s 23 million eligible voters cast ballots, but human rights groups put the turnout at about 5 per cent. The groups did not give a turnout for Monday’s runoff.

The United States has said it was troubled by reports of widespread voter fraud and coercion in the first round.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said reports of undemocratic practices by government agents in Muslim Brotherhood — majority areas were “of deep concern.” The brotherhood stunned the government by scoring large victories in 2005 elections for parliament’s lower house, winning more than a fifth of the legislative body’s seats to become the largest opposition bloc. Though the group is officially banned, its members run as independents.

Only 176 members of the Shura Council are directly elected for six-year terms, with half of those seats coming up for election every three years. Mubarak appoints the remaining 88 members.

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