Egyptian elections marred by opposition's allegations of fraud. Charges could taint Mubarak's bid for greater legitimacy

Amid widespead allegations of vote fraud, Egyptians went to the polls yesterday to elect 448 members to the People's Assembly (parliament). Five legal parties, including the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), as well as several thousand independents are running. After the polls opened Monday, opposition party members alleged that in many cases poll watchers were not allowed to do their jobs. In addition, according to the left-wing Tegamu Party, voters in several election districts in the Nile delta were told to go home because the election urns were already full.

British journalist David Hirst was reportedly detained in a Nile delta town after witnessing a scuffle between Tegamu poll watchers and police. There were reports of a shooting in Sohag, a town recently the site of violence between Muslims and Copts.

``It's a disaster,'' a Tegamu spokesman said. ``The police are beating poll watchers and kicking them out. They are also closing the boxes. In 1984 they cheated at the Interior Ministry when they counted. This time it's at the polling places.''

Egypt has a tradition of alleged vote fraud, made possible by a system which does not require voters to provide proof of identity. But the current allegations are significant because President Hosni Mubarak vowed the elections would be clean. He called them apparently out of a commitment to broaden the democratic process and bring more of the opposition into the Assembly. In addition, a court had been expected to rule the previous parliament illegal because of a ban on independents.

The allegations of fraud, if maintained by the opposition, could mar Mr. Mubarak's bid for greater legitimacy.

``My feeling is that a part of the state apparatus did not agree with these elections,'' said the Tegamu member. ``Mubarak went ahead with them because of his own constitutionality problem. But others, the interior minister, wanted to show they would cause disturbances.''

According to some analysts, in the last few days, the NDP panicked when it appeared that a tripartite alliance including the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood was attracting large crowds at its campaign rallies.

Three days before the election, the government arrested some 500 alleged Muslim extremists. The Muslim Brotherhood says about 500 of its members were held in an alleged drive to dampen their election showing.

The opposition has not yet said it will boycott the new Assembly to protest the alleged fraud. The government plans to anounce the election results Thursday.

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