Egypt opposition alleges vote fraud in referendum
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's opposition said Sunday it will keep fighting the Islamist-backed constitution after the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group backing the charter, claimed it passed with a 64 percent "yes" vote in a referendum.
The opposition alleged vote fraud and demanded an investigation — a sign that the referendum will not end the turmoil that has roiled this country for nearly two years since the uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Many Egyptians, especially the tens of millions who live in extreme poverty, had hoped the new constitution might usher in a period of more stability.
A heated political debate over the past month leading up to the referendum at times erupted into deadly street battles. There were no mass opposition demonstrations on Sunday after the unofficial results came out.
Renewed violence and political tensions have further imperiled Egypt's already precarious economy, reeling from dwindling resources and a cash-strapped government whose plans to borrow from the International Monetary Fund had to be pushed back because of the turmoil.
The finance ministry said Sunday the budget deficit reached $13 billion in the five months from July-November, about 4.5 percent higher compared to the same period last year.
Official results of the referendum are not expected until Monday. If the unofficial numbers are confirmed, it will be a victory Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who is from the Brotherhood.
But the opposition allegations look likely to prolong the fight. Beyond allegations of fraud, the opposition will likely challenge new laws issued on the basis of the constitution as well as Morsi's economic policies.
"The referendum is not the end game. It is only a battle in this long struggle for the future of Egypt," said the National Salvation Front, the main opposition group. "We will not allow a change to the identity of Egypt or the return of the age of tyranny."
The opposition claims the new constitution seeks to enshrine Islamic rule in Egypt and accuses the Islamists of trying to monopolize power.
Critics say it does not sufficiently protect the rights of women and minority groups and empowers Muslim clerics by giving them a say over legislation. Some articles were also seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists' enemies and undermine the freedom of labor unions.
The latest political battle began with Morsi's Nov. 22 decrees that gave him powers to protect the Islamist-dominated panel writing the constitution and dismiss the country's top prosecutor, a holdover from the Mubarak era.
Although Morsi subsequently rescinded the powers that gave him immunity from judicial oversight, his decision to replace the prosecutor general was viewed by many in the judiciary as trampling over their powers. Hundreds of prosecutors held a rally Sunday demanding the new, Morsi-appointed prosecutor general quit, days after he retracted his resignation claiming it was rendered under pressure.
The prosecutors said in a news conference that they will be on strike until he quits.
Scores of lawyers who support Morsi's decision held an earlier rally, demanding that the top prosecutor stay, and accusing the opposition of being "thugs."
One major concern in the aftermath of the constitutional turmoil is Egypt's deteriorating economy, which has been battered by the two years of turmoil and taken an added hit from renewed violence recently.
Adding to the anxiety, state television reported on Saturday amidst voting on the referendum that the central bank governor had resigned, then retracted the report. The governor turned up at a meeting of the government's economic team Sunday in an apparent attempt to quell nervousness over the state of the economy.
The government stressed the urgency of stability.
"The financial and economic situations are dire," government spokesman Alaa el-Hadidi said, according to comments published by the state news agency MENA. With the referendum behind, el-Hadidi said economic policies must be at the center of attention, adding that the government will work to improve the investment environment to attract foreign investors.
The government had to postpone a request for $4.8 billion of IMF loans, putting off unpopular tax increases and reforms to after the referendum for fear they would only stoke political tensions.
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