Egypt to hold referendum on two separate dates



Cairo: Notwithstanding opposition's call for the scrapping of the entire referendum, Egyptian authorities on Wednesday announced that the vote on a controversial draft constitution would be held on two different dates.

Egyptian Central Elections Commission announced today that the vote, initially set only for December 15, will take place both on Saturday and a week later on December 22. Each round will cover a different region, the state media reported.

According to Aljazeera, the two-day voting plan had been adopted because many of the judges needed to oversee the vote were staying away in protest at the decision to hold the referendum, so voting had to be staggered to move the judges around.

Egyptians abroad, meanwhile, have already begun voting in the referendum on the new constitution, state media said. Voting was taking place at Egyptian embassies abroad, with more than 500,000 Egyptians expected to cast their votes in 150 countries.

The present political turmoil began after President Mohamed Mursi granted himself absolute powers through the November 22 decree that had put his decisions beyond judicial review, a move which gained him titles like "dictator" and "Pharaoh".

Mursi tried to calm protests by annulling the decree, but decided to go ahead with the December 15 referendum on a new Islamist constitution as scheduled.

Egypt's Constituent Assembly on November 30 in a marathon session approved a draft constitution imposing Islamic values, a move opposed by Liberals as an attempt to restrict freedom of speech and religion in the country.

Unmoved by Mursi's overtures, the largely secular opposition has demanded the entire referendum to be scrapped.

Tens of thousands of protesters yesterday filled the streets in the Egyptian capital to demonstrate for and against a December 15 referendum on the constitution.

Hundreds of Egyptian protesters had also breached a concrete and metal barricade outside the presidential palace and forced back the soldiers manning it.

The protesters pulled apart a high metal gate bar by bar and toppled concrete blocks with chains. Soldiers had erected the barrier to block access roads following deadly clashes last week. The soldiers fell back closer to the palace.

Mursi yesterday amended a law so that voters cannot cast their ballots outside their electoral districts, as they had in the past. Being able to vote anywhere had been a convenience, a presidential statement said, but it creates a burden on electoral officials.

Earlier, the government granted the military the power to make arrests during the electoral period, a power previously limited to police.

The move is designed to secure the voting process and will be rolled back once the election results are published, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.

PTI