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15 Dec, 2012 06:19

Egyptians vote on hotly contested sharia-based constitution

Egyptians have voted in the first round of a referendum on a disputed new constitution that has split the country in two and sparked deadly protests. Liberal opposition slammed the document as too Islamist, curtailing the rights of minority groups.

The preliminary results have started to emerge as the polling stations officially closed at 11:00 pm local time. The Muslim Brotherhood has said on its official English-language website,that the votes have been counted in 6146 out of the 6376 polling stations with 57.3 per cent of the voters saying “YES” and 42.7 per cent saying “NO,” the Ikhwanweb site reported.At least four people have been injured since the constitutional referendum kicked off in Egypt, says the country's Health Ministry as tensions continue to run high in the country.Polls opened at 8:00 pm local time (6:00 GMT) in Cairo, Alexandria and eight other regions in the first round of voting. Egypt’s remaining regions will get their chance to vote on December 22. Furthermore, expat voting has been extended until Monday by the Egyptian government.Meanwhile the opposition accused the Muslim Brotherhood of attempted "vote rigging" in Saturday's referendum. The National Salvation Front, in a statement, expressed "deep concern… over the number of irregularities and violations in the holding of the referendum,” saying it “points to a clear desire for vote rigging by the Muslim Brotherhood."The referendum has been split over two days as there are not enough members of the judiciary to monitor the process after some pledged to boycott the vote. If the new constitution is rejected, another document will have to be drafted in a process that could several more months. Over half of Egypt’s 51 million registered voters were expected to make their way to the polls this Saturday.

Tensions over the vote reached a boiling point in Egypt’s second largest city Alexandria on Friday night as 2,000 Morsi supporters gathered outside the city’s central Mosque in support of the constitution.Prominent preacher Ahmed Mahalawy called for worshippers coming out of Friday prayer ceremonies to vote “yes” to the new document. The movement triggered the ire of the opposition protesters who laid siege to the mosque and scuffled with Islamist Brotherhood supporters, trapping Cleric Mahalawy in the building. At least 19 people were injured in the ensuing violence and several cars were torched as security forces were deployed to bring the situation under control. On Saturday, the Supreme Electoral Commission ordered18 polling stations in Alexandria to shut down. The commision cited lack of supervision by judges.

The new constitution has been the source of escalating tensions at an already delicate time for Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi. The document was hurriedly approved two weeks ago by Egypt’s Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, who said that the charter was based around the principles of Sharia law. The opposition also decried sweeping powers that Morsi granted himself, effectively stripping the judiciary of the right to annul the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.The government’s announcement of the draft constitution was greeted by opposition ire and sparked deadly protests, as thousands flocked to Cairo’s presidential palace to voice their disapproval of the country’s ruling Islamist faction. In response, President Morsi was forced to relinquish the extra powers he had assumed to calm public rage. He also deployed Egypt’s military to aid the police as a temporary measure until the results of the referendum are known.The opposition, after failing to derail the referendum, has had little time to organize a rival campaign to scrap the charter, and has threatened to boycott the second round if it decides that the vote is unfair.