Early indicators show Egyptians narrowly back constitution

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The result based on unofficial tallies, if confirmed for this round and repeated in Saturday’s second stage, may give Islamist President Mohamed Mursi limited cause for celebration as it shows the wide rift in Egypt at a time when he needs to build consensus on tough measures to heal a fragile economy.

The second round of the referendum is to be held next Saturday, after which the official result is to be given.

Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) Secretary-General Zaghloul El-Balshi told the privately-owned daily Egypt Independent that “some 50 percent of the 25 million registered voters in the ten governorates that cast ballots in the first phase of the poll had already voted.”

Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and main media outlets said that, based on unofficial figures, it appeared that the polling was trending around 60 percent support for the draft charter.

But the opposition insisted its preliminary figures suggested that 66 percent of the voters had rejected the proposed constitution. It claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had sought to “rig” the vote.

Mursi and his backers say the constitution is vital to move Egypt’s democratic transition forward. Opponents say the basic law is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights, including those of Christians who make up 10 percent of the population.

The build-up to Saturday’s vote was marred by deadly protests. Demonstrations erupted last month when Mursi awarded himself sweeping powers and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies.

The vote passed off peacefully with long queues forming in Cairo and other cities and towns where this round of voting was held. The vote was staggered because many judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott to voice their opposition.

But late on Saturday, as polls were closing, Islamists attacked the offices of the liberal opposition Wafd party newspaper, a party that was part of the National Salvation Front coalition that pushed for a “no” vote.

“The referendum was 56.5 percent for the ‘yes’ vote,” a senior official in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party operations room set up to monitor voting told Reuters.

The Brotherhood and its party, which propelled Mursi to power in a June election, had representatives at almost all polling stations across the 10 areas, including Cairo, where this round of voting was held.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said the tally was based on counts from more than 99 percent of polling stations in this round.

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