Opposition says Egypt election results `invalid`

Egypt`s leading opposition group dismissed on Tuesday the results of parliamentary elections as "invalid," but nevertheless said its candidates would participate in weekend runoffs.

Cairo: Egypt`s leading opposition group dismissed on Tuesday the results of parliamentary elections as "invalid," but nevertheless said its candidates would participate in weekend runoffs.

The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood said Monday its lawmakers may be almost entirely swept out of parliament by what it said was rampant rigging, intimidation and vote-buying — allegations echoed by rights groups. That would be a huge blow to the most powerful opposition group, which shocked the ruling National Democratic Party in the last election in 2005 by winning 88 seats, or a fifth of parliament. A sustained government crackdown has since weakened the group.

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie said President Hosni Mubarak`s government had broken its promise to hold clean elections, but vowed his group would not resort to violence.

"We will not allow anyone to tempt us into breaking the law," he told a news conference. "The crimes committed by the regime clearly reflect its weakness and confusion. ... Whatever is built on falsehood is false," he added. "The election is invalid."

Sunday`s vote has been closely watched for any indications on the political direction of Egypt ahead of a more crucial presidential election in 2011. Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years and is now 82, underwent surgery earlier this year to remove a gallbladder. Many believe he is positioning his son, Gamal, to succeed him, but there is widespread public opposition to "inheritance" of power.

The ferocity of the crackdown on the Brotherhood could indicate a concern among authorities that uncertainty over Mubarak`s continued grip on power could open the way for escalating dissent in a country with widespread poverty and increasingly vocal protests over food prices, unemployment and other economic hardships. Opponents say the ruling party aimed to sweep parliament to ensure it does not become a platform for dissent.

The Obama administration said Monday it was dismayed by reports of election-day interference and intimidation by security forces — irregularities that call into question the fairness and transparency of the process. Egypt is a key US ally in the Middle East.

The country` High Election Commission has dismissed reports of violence or irregularities during voting, saying the few incidents it uncovered "did not undermine the electoral process as a whole."

Official results are to be announced later Tuesday.

According to preliminary tallies announced by local election officials, the ruling party has won 170 of 508 parliament seats outright while only a handful went to the opposition.

The Brotherhood said it expected the results to show that of 130 candidates it fielded, 104 lost outright in the first round, leaving only 26 with any hope of securing representation in the next legislature. Those 26 will stand in runoffs to be held Sunday for those contests where no candidate won more than 50 percent of the votes.

Senior Brotherhood official Essam el-Erian later told The Associated Press that boycotting the runoffs was a possibility. Badie and other Brotherhood leaders said the group will be meeting in the next day or two to deliberate its next move.

"All options in the runoffs are open to us," Badie said. "We will go back to our institutions and reach a decision," said Badie.

In the run-up to the Nov. 28 election, at least 1,200 Brotherhood supporters were arrested.

The group, founded in 1928, has been outlawed for nearly 60 years so it fields its candidates as independents, a tactic the government says it intends to legally contest.

Another opposition party, the liberal Wafd, leveled similar charges against the government on Tuesday, saying it had violated a "presidential promise" to have free and fair elections and that in the absence of credible supervision of the vote, fraud had been rampant.

The election "witnessed the massacre of democracy and freedom in Egypt," said the statement, published in the party`s newspaper. "The ruling party`s undemocratic practices ... raped its legitimacy with its assault on the law and the constitution."

Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal Ghad party, also condemned the vote, saying it was a "scandal." He called on Egyptians to reject the results. Nour was among few opposition voices that adhered to an elections boycott, anticipating fraud, though a rebel faction of his party did run candidates.

Bureau Report