Friday, May 25, 2018

Egypt scrambles to prepare for Saturday vote on new constitution

CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's decision to rush a referendum on a new constitution has polarized the country, which has been wracked by widespread protests over how the document was drafted.

Now the balloting itself appears likely to heighten those divisions. Just two days before Egyptians are to begin voting on the constitution, there are signs that the rushed vote will be marred by irregularities, a shortage of judges and far fewer international monitors than in past elections.

On Thursday, the largest opposition group, the National Salvation Front, said it wouldn't recognize the results if the voting isn't transparent and "legitimate." It said it already had found evidence of rigged votes in the international balloting that took place earlier this week, including marked lists suggesting that voters had participated when they had not and polling stations that closed early. The government denied the charges.

The group also insisted on international monitors at polling stations. But to date, the largest groups that have monitored past elections here, including the Carter Center from the United States, have said they don't have time to prepare. Instead, only Egyptians will monitor the process.

That seemed likely to lead to complaints that the monitors themselves are biased. The Muslim Brotherhood, the group through which Morsi rose to prominence, likely will have the most monitors. Meanwhile, opposition groups were pleading Thursday for volunteers to register as monitors.

At the High Elections Commission headquarters Thursday in Cairo, judges who had come to find out which polling stations they had been assigned to were told to come back later. Many who did know their assignments said they still hadn't been given the voter rolls they needed to conduct the elections.

The shortage of judges forced the government to set two dates for voting so the judges can be double-tasked.

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