Cairo: Islamists and liberals traded accusations of abuses during the second round of Egypt`s first post-Hosni Mubarak parliamentary elections as voters cast ballots on Thursday in mostly rural parts of the country.
Most of the reports accused election officials at polling stations of filling out the ballot forms instead of the elderly or confused voters. If confirmed as a pattern, the reports could chip away at the credibility of what has so far been Egypt`s most free and fair vote ever.
Two alliances led by Islamists have won close to 70 percent of seats in the first round on Nov. 28-29, according to an AP tally compiled from official results. The secular and liberal forces that largely drove Egypt`s uprising that ousted Mubarak were trounced, failing to turn their achievement into a victory at the polls.
The second round of voting, taking place Wednesday and Thursday in nine provinces, and the third round in early January are not expected to dramatically alter the result and could even strengthen the Islamists` hand. Rural areas in Egypt are traditionally more conservative, and some are Islamist strongholds.
The elections will lead to the formation of a parliament, which in theory is tasked to select a 100-member assembly to draft Egypt`s new constitution. Liberals fear that Islamists-led parliament might lead to an Islamic constitution, setting new Egypt to the path of more religious fundamentalism.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is leading the polls, and an alliance of liberal youth parties have filed complaints, saying officials at several stations were "dictating to the voters who to vote for."
The Brotherhood`s political arm, the Justice and Freedom party, said officials in several populous districts of Giza, Cairo`s twin city, "forced female voters to vote for competitors" running against Brotherhood candidates.
The Brotherhood`s statement quoted an official at a polling station telling voters that it`s "enough what Freedom and Justice got so far."
Meanwhile, in Cairo`s Dokki district, officials at polling centers flooded with ultraconservative Islamist party banners were seen filling out ballot papers in place of voters, according to a statement by a youth party, The Egyptian Current.
Another secular alliance of mostly liberal youth parties, Revolution Continues, said its representatives in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia were kicked out of polling centers after complaining that officials there were "dictating to voters who to vote for."
On Wednesday, an Associated Press reporter saw an official overseeing the vote in Giza`s impoverished Kerdassa district filling out a ballot for an old man. When the judge noticed the reporter, he shouted, "Why are you here, old man, if you don`t know who to vote for?"
But election official Abdel Moneim el-Halawani said officials at polling centers were only "helping illiterate voters." In remarks published Thursday in the Al-Masry Al-Youm paper, el-Halawani said they helped many voters who could not read or write identify the symbols next to the names of the candidates or party lists.
According to a June official Cabinet report, illiteracy in Egypt is nearly 27 percent of the country`s 85 million population.
Head of election commission Abdel-Moez Ibrahim denounced late Wednesday the accusations of abuse as "rumors and lies," and added that officials at polling stations were there "to serve their country."
"They work day and night, and their hands are clean," he said.