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Initial backing for Mursi charter

- Close vote tally exposes deep divisions

Cairo, Dec. 17 (Reuters): President Mohamed Mursi has won initial backing from Egyptians for a new Constitution that he hopes will steer the country out of crisis, but which opponents say is an Islamist charter that tramples on minority rights.

A first day of voting in a referendum on the draft basic law resulted in 56.5 per cent “Yes” votes, Mursi’s political party said. An Opposition official conceded that Egyptians voting on Saturday appeared to have backed the measure.

Next Saturday’s second set of balloting is likely to give another “Yes” vote as the voting then will be in districts generally seen as even more sympathetic towards Islamists, and that would mean the Constitution should be approved.

But the apparent closeness of the early tally gives Mursi only limited comfort as it exposes deep divisions in a country where he needs to build a consensus for tough economic reforms.

If the Constitution passes, national elections can take place early next year, something that many hope will usher in the stability that Egypt has lacked since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. “The referendum was 56.5 per cent for the ‘Yes’ vote,” said a senior official in the operations room set up by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to monitor voting.

A statement from the Opposition National Salvation Front did not explicitly challenge the Brotherhood’s vote tally, saying instead that voting malpractices meant a rerun was needed.

Rights groups reported abuses such as polling stations opening late, officials telling people how to vote, and bribery. They also criticised widespread religious campaigning that portrayed “No” voters as heretics. A joint statement by seven human rights groups urged the referendum’s organisers “to avoid these mistakes in the second stage of the referendum and to restage the first phase”.

Mursi and his backers say the Constitution is vital to move Egypt's democratic transition forward. Opponents say it is too Islamist and ignores the rights of minorities, including the Christians who make up 10 per cent of the population.

 
 
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