Fraud claims prompt demands for Egyptian election monitors

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The Independent Online

President Hosni Mubarak is expected to win a new six-year mandate. But if no candidate wins 51 per cent of the votes, the contest requires a second-round run-off.

Civil rights groups and supporters of the opposition candidate Ayman Nour want monitors to check for ballot box stuffing, intimidation and bribery of voters and other malpractices.

On Saturday an administrative court ruled that monitors could enter polling stations. The electoral commission overturned that ruling the same day. On Monday, three coalitions of civil society groups petitioned the court to enforce its ruling. "The authorities have got the ballot boxes ready with the votes inside and they are deciding whether it would look better internationally if Mubarak wins with 75 per cent or 80 per cent of the vote," claimed Mohammed Habib, an MP and spokes-man for the main opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has been banned from contesting the first multi-party elections in Egypt. In the past President Mubarak, 77, sought only a simple yes-no approval by referendum as a mandate for his 24 years of autocratic rule.

The US government has asked President Mubarak to allow in foreign observers but he flatly refused.

Other rights groups said they were mobilising volunteers for monitoring operations, if necessary without official approval.

One group said that it had reports that large numbers of invalid voting cards were in circulation, possibly for use by people voting more than once. As well as the spirited campaign by Mr Nour, the 44-year-old leader of the Al Ghad (Tomorrow) party, Mr Mubarak also faces opposition from Noman Gomaa, the veteran leader of the Wafd party, who is widely believed to have stood at official request to spoil Mr Nour's chances.

More than 30 organisations involved in the push for transparency plan to circumvent the ban by sending voters as monitors. They are planning to set up camp outside polling stations and have handed out checklists and set up hotlines to report violations of electoral rules. A campaign called Shayfenkom, (we can see you) urges Egyptians to report election violations on a website or by telephone.