Egypt Votes In Parliamentary Poll

Voting begins in election marred by crackdown on opposition as ruling party is expected to strengthen grip on power.

(Al Jazeera)

Residents set to vote in parliamentary polls following campaign marred by violence and crackdown on opposition. ( 27-Nov-2010 )

Egyptians have begun voting in a parliamentary election that is expected to strengthen the ruling party's grip on power and further weaken the opposition.

With nearly 80 million people, turnout is likely to be low, as usual, amid fears the vote will take place amid clashes between rival candidates' supporters and police after the arrests of more than 1,000 opposition candidates.

Polling stations opened at 8am (0600 GMT) on Sunday across the country's 254 districts, with around 41 million Egyptians eligible to vote. The first results are expected on Monday.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is expected to win a solid majority of the 508 elected seats and to make further gains when Hosni Mubarak, the president, fills the 10 remaining seats with his appointees.

The Muslim Brotherhood-- the only serious organised opposition though not officially because it's officially banned-- is predicted to win far fewer seats than the fifth of parliament it secured in the last election in 2005.

The group, which registers its candidates as independents, will have 130 members on ballots after more than a dozen were disqualified.

More than 1,000 of its supporters have been arrested while campaigning or in clashes with police in past weeks.

Eleven of them were sentenced this week to two years in jail for handing out the group's leaflets and campaigning.

Egypt bans using religious slogans in campaigns.

Fraud accusations

Rights groups say Egyptian elections, which consistently reproduce NDP-dominated parliaments, are routinely spoiled by fraud at the ballot box, a claim denied by the government, which has pledged to hold a fair vote.

Local civil society groups have complained that the authorities rejected requests for thousands of permits to monitor the vote and the count, but the electoral commission says it granted more than 6,000 permits.

Egypt does not allow foreign election observers.

"The elections are already fatally compromised," Tom Malinowski, part of a delegation from the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said.

"It is not going to be a fair and free election," he said.

The NDP is running about 800 candidates. Legal opposition parties, the majority of which have no representation in the outgoing parliament, are running about 450 candidates.

The election is being closely watched for an indication of how the government will conduct the far more important presidential election in 2011.

President Mubarak, 82, has not yet said whether he will run in the next election. But the former air force chief's eventual successor will most likely come from his ruling NDP or the military.