Cairo: Egypt`s top election official overseeing a referendum to decide the fate of a controversial and polarising draft constitution, has resigned citing health reasons, two days ahead of the second phase of voting amid widespread allegations of irregularities and rigging.
The opposition is up in arms against the government of President Mohamed Mursi and the draft constitution that critics see as being "too Islamist" and have levelled allegations of irregularities in the first round of the vote on December 15 that turned out to be a narrow `yes`.
Secretary General of the Election Committee Zaghloul el-Balshi announced he is stepping down and cited "a sudden health crisis" as the reason for his sudden resignation last night.
"The effort I put in over the past period has caused a sudden health crisis... As you know, it is impossible to carry out my mission with this health condition," read the letter of resignation he sent to the election committee.
According to Al Jazeera, his relatives told local media that el-Balshi had undergone eye surgery.
However, not all are buying health as the reason for his stepping down. Some critics said the irregularities in the first round of referendum vote proved too much for him.
"The violations were blatant, and he couldn`t bear more, so he resigned. Don`t believe what is said about his health condition," Hossam Eissa, a leading opposition member, was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
The first round of referendum last week saw almost 44 per cent of Egyptians saying `no` to the constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, with a second round set for Saturday.
Opposition members said the `no` vote percentage was too high to be ignored.
"No country in the world would accept a constitution pass
with only 50 per cent of the population in agreement," said George Ishak, member of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a grouping of opposition parties who had campaigned for rejecting the constitution draft.
A number of rights groups and opposition parties had filed complaints of violations during the first round of the vote. They complained that at several places a vote was held without a judge overseeing it and at several places judges were replaced by employees.
Egypt`s Justice Ministry has ordered an investigation into the allegations.
Many judges had also boycotted overseeing the referendum, in protest against President Mursi`s action of "abduction" of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Egypt`s Constituent Assembly on November 30 in a marathon session approved the draft constitution imposing Islamic values, a move opposed by Liberals as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech and religion in the country.
The articles passed, stipulated that Islam is the religion of the state, and the principles of Sharia, or Islamic law, are the "main source of legislation".