Egypt opposition threatens to boycott runoff

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CAIRO: Egypt’s Islamist and secular opposition said on Wednesday they may pull out of a runoff after a crushing defeat by President Hosni Mubarak’s party in weekend polls marred by alleged fraud and violence.
Such a move would leave barely any opposition contesting the second round and deal another blow to the credibility of the elections after Egypt came in for heavy criticism from its ally the US and human rights groups. Official figures showed Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won 209 of 221 seats in the first round of the parliamentary election on Sunday, seen as a forerunner to a crucial 2011 presidential election.
In the vote, the outlawed but generally tolerated Muslim Brotherhood failed to win a single seat outright, while the legal secular opposition parties Tagammu and Wafd were also hammered. Most of the seats in next Sunday’s runoff will be contested by candidates of Mubarak’s NDP, which fielded more than 800 for parliament’s 508 elected seats.
The Brotherhood, which ignored a call in September to boycott the poll by Egypt’s former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, denounced the election as “rigged and invalid” and said it is considering pulling out of the second round. “There are different opinions,” senior Brotherhood official Essam el-Erian told AFP in answer to a question about whether or not the Islamists would take part in the December 5 vote.
“This afternoon we will know more about the decision,” he added. The Islamists said before the results were announced that 26 of its candidates would stand in the second round, 16 of them sitting MPs. The secretary general of the liberal Wafd party, Munir Fakhir Abdel Nur, said his party would also hold a meeting on Wednesday to decide its next move.
“It makes no sense that one party control 96 percent of parliament. It would be better to save the money that is allocated to parliament and ask the NDP’s political committee to take over the role,” Abdel Nur told AFP. The Brotherhood, which registers its candidates as independents to get round a ban on religious parties, fielded 130 in the first round, after more than a dozen were disqualified and at least 1,200 supporters arrested.
One of the founders of Tagammu, former MP El-Badri Farghali, resigned along with 150 party members in Port Said, accusing the party’s president of “making it a branch of the NDP.” A number of prominent independent MPs who embarrassed the government in the last parliament by raising allegations of corruption or supported opposition champion Mohammed ElBaradei were also knocked out in the first round, according to media reports.