Egypt held its first contested presidential election yesterday, but the long-awaited experiment in expanding Arab democracy was marred by allegations of fraud.
The government wants a heavy turnout to strengthen the position of President Hosni Mubarak, widely expected to win another six-year term. First indications, though, suggested that participation would be low.
Mr Mubarak, 77, who has been elected four times since 1981 in single-candidate plebiscites, is also anxious that the contest be judged free and fair, in contrast to previous votes which have been marred by accusations of malpractice.
Within hours of the polls opening at 8 am, however, the first charges of irregularities were made. Mr Mubarak's main challengers said that at some polling stations voters were casting their ballots without being properly checked and that the ruling National Democratic Party was laying on transport for likely supporters.
Independent local monitors complained that they were prevented from carrying out on-site inspections and had to observe from a distance, reports Telegraph.
According to Washington post, Egypt says the decision to allow challengers to Mubarak signals a move toward greater democracy in a country that has seen only authoritarian rule for more than a half-century.
Opponents, however, dismissed the reform claims as a sham. They note that Mubarak's party controls most of the government, including the electoral process. And they argue the wide publicity given Mubarak by state-owned media made it difficult for opposition candidates to gain wide support.
The leading opposition candidate, Ayman Nour, charged the elections "are not fair at all. There are no fair elections taking place."
"We accept only the results of free and fair elections, and we won't accept results of rigged elections," he told a late afternoon news conference.
But election commission spokesman Osama Atawaya said it had received no complaints of voter bribery. He defended the fairness of the balloting overall and predicted turnout would be high.
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