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Low voter turnout expected as Egypt heads to polls

Amid high security and increased local tensions, Egyptians head to the polls on Sunday in what rights groups fear will not be a fair election. The ruling NDP party is expected to gain a comfortable parliamentary majority.


AFP - Egyptians head to the polls on Sunday under tightened security in a parliamentary election that is expected to strengthen the ruling party's grip and further weaken its harried Islamist opposition.

Turnout in the country of 80 million people is likely to be low, as usual, amid fears the vote will take place amid clashes between rival candidates' supporters and police after the arrests of more than 1,000 Islamists.
The son of an independent candidate, Sayyed Sayyed Mohammed, was stabbed to death on the eve of the vote as he was putting up posters of his father in Cairo.

The police later arrested the two attackers who confessed. But they denied that the crime was politically motivated.

Polling stations open at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) across the country's 254 districts, with around 41 million Egyptians eligible to vote. The first results are expected on Monday.
But rights groups say the election has already been marred by the arrests of opposition activists and restrictions on their candidates.
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is expected to win a solid majority of the 508 elected seats and to make further gains when President Hosni Mubarak fills the 10 remaining seats with his appointees.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the only serious organised opposition, is predicted to win far fewer seats than the fifth of parliament it secured in the last election in 2005.
The group, which registers its candidates as independents to circumvent a ban on religious parties, will have 130 members on ballots after more than a dozen were disqualified.
More than 1,000 of its supporters have been arrested while campaigning or in clashes with police in past weeks. Eleven of them were sentenced this week to two years in jail for handing out the group's leaflets and campaigning.
Egypt bans using religious slogans in campaigns, a hallmark of the Islamist group.
"The elections are already fatally compromised," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch.
"It is not going to be a fair and free election," said Malinowski, part of a delegation from the New York-based rights group visiting Egypt for the election.
Past elections were beset by deadly clashes between police and protesters and battles between machete and sword-wielding thugs hired by rival candidates.
Rights groups say the election, which consistently return NDP-dominated parliaments, are routinely spoiled by fraud at the ballot box, a claim denied by the government, which has pledged to hold a fair vote.
Local civil society groups have complained that the authorities rejected requests for thousands of permits to monitor the vote and the count, while the electoral commission says it granted more than 6,000 permits.
Egypt does not allow foreign election observers.
The NDP is running about 800 candidates. Legal opposition parties, the majority of which have no representation in the outgoing parliament, are running about 450 candidates.
The election is being closely watched for an indication of how the government will conduct the far more important presidential election in 2011.
Mubarak, 82, has not yet said whether he will run in the next election. But the former air force chief's eventual successor will most likely come from his ruling NDP or the military.

Islamist Muslim Brotherhood member runs as independent



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