Egypt’s main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, said it’s withdrawing its candidates from runoffs in parliamentary elections, which it claims were rigged.
The Islamist group said in a statement on its website that it was pulling out of a second round of voting on Dec. 5, “in protest to violations and riggings.” The Brotherhood, which is outlawed by the government and fields its candidates as independents, failed to win any seats in the first round.
The ruling National Democratic Party has denied charges of rigging the vote. The Obama administration was “disappointed” by “the numerous reported irregularities at the polls,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said yesterday.
The party of President Hosni Mubarak won 209 of the 221 seats decided in the voting on Nov. 28, according to official results released yesterday on the website of the electoral commission. The results tighten the ruling party’s grip on power in Egypt, a U.S. ally, as it prepares for next year’s presidential election, which may see the first change in leadership in three decades.
The NDP fielded more than 800 candidates for 508 parliamentary seats. The Brotherhood lost 62 of the 88 seats it held in the outgoing parliament and won’t contest the remainder.
“They were surprised by the extent to which they were barred from the elections,” said Issandr El Amrani, a Cairo-based independent political analyst. “I can understand them thinking, ‘Why go through another round of this charade?’ They are going to have to take a step back and reconsider their strategy. There’s a longstanding debate about participation that will re-emerge.”
“We are prepared to answer any criticisms, internal or external, about the election,” Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told reporters in Cairo today. Egypt’s government invalidated results from 1,053 ballot boxes due to charges of vote-rigging, Sameh El Kashef, spokesman for the commission, said at a press conference late yesterday.
Mubarak, in power since 1981, hasn’t announced whether he will run for another six-year term. Opposition groups, including the Brotherhood, have said that the president is grooming his son Gamal, a senior NDP official, to succeed him. Both men deny this.
The lack of a designated successor to Mubarak, 82, has fueled concern that a succession crisis may lead to political unrest. That could endanger foreign investment needed to create jobs and accelerate growth in the most populous Arab country. When the president underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder in March, investors dumped Egyptian shares and the benchmark EGX30 index lost 6.7 percent in a week.
The election saw a number of violations including vote- rigging, violence and obstruction of opposition candidates, a coalition of Egyptian human rights groups said yesterday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had received reports of “numerous” violations during the vote. These included authorities detaining journalists and preventing the staff of opposition candidates from entering 30 polling stations the group visited, it said in a statement distributed to reporters Nov. 29 in Cairo.