Egypt Islamists say quitting 'rigged' election

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The Independent Online

Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which held a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, said today it was quitting an election race it said was rigged after winning no seats in the first round.

A smaller group, the liberal Wafd party, also said it was withdrawing from a run-off vote to be held on 5 December.

President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party is assured of a sweeping victory after Sunday's first round, in which opposition parties won just a handful of seats.

Rights groups accused the authorities of a range of fraudulent tactics but the government said the vote was fair.

A Brotherhood source confirmed a newspaper report that the group was pulling out from run-offs in which it was fielding 26 candidates, and said the group's leader would make an official announcement later today.

The Brotherhood runs candidates as independents to skirt a ban on religious parties.

Wafd, which had 12 seats in the outgoing parliament, said it was quitting in a statement on its website, after winning just two seats in the first round. It was was set to contest just nine run-offs. Wafd described the race as "scandalous".

A party spokesman told Reuters that Wafd would consider tomorrow whether to take up the two seats it had already won.

Rights groups accused the authorities of ballot stuffing, bullying and other dirty tricks in the first round. The government said the vote was fair and any abuses were being checked but would not undermine the overall vote.

Analysts said the government wanted to push its Islamist critics to the margins of formal politics before next year's presidential race. Mubarak, 82, in power since 1981, has not said if he will run again in 2011.

But silencing Islamists in the assembly might empower radicals who believe the Brotherhood's stated strategy of using only peaceful means to achieve a democratic Islamic state has failed, adding to other public frustrations, analysts added.