Egyptians set for summer elections

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The Independent Online

Egypt's ruling military council is set to hand over power within months after voters overwhelmingly endorsed constitutional amendments in a referendum which paves the way for elections this summer.

In the first free poll the nation has experienced in decades, huge numbers of Egyptians turned out to cast their ballot in a plebiscite which cleaved apart the political consensus developed in the days leading up to the former president Hosni Mubarak's ousting last month.

Last night it was announced that 77.2 per cent of the electorate had backed the package of changes to the country's 1971 constitution to allow fairer presidential and parliamentary elections to take place.

The army, which seized power following the toppling of Mubarak on 11 February, had staked a great deal on last night's outcome.

But the referendum, which involved 18.5 million voters on a 70 per cent turnout, was characterised by deep divisions – exemplified when the presidential contender Mohamed El Baradei was pelted with stones on Saturday afternoon.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party (NDP) were the only main organisations to campaign for a "yes" vote, arguing that the sooner Egyptians returned to civilian rule the better.

Almost all the other main opposition figures, including Mr El Baradei, were opposed. They argued that summer elections would benefit the well-organised Muslim Brotherhood and NDP, and that a year-long interim period was required to develop Egypt's political base. But the vast majority of those who voted disagreed. Wael Abbas, a blogger and human rights activist, said the "yes" vote meant there was now a "clear path" to democracy.