Egyptians Vote for Upper House Amid Low Turnout

Posted January 29th, 2012 at 7:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Turnout was decidedly low as Egyptians voted Sunday for the upper house of parliament, with Islamist parties widely expected to build on their success from lower house elections in November, when voters turned out in record numbers.

Few voters showed up to cast their ballots at polling stations in Cairo — one of 13 provinces where the first stage of elections for the largely advisory Shura Council are taking place. A second stage will take place on February 14-15.

Under the complex system adopted after former president Hosni Mubarak's ouster, two-thirds of the Shura's 180 elected members will be voted on through a party-list system; one-third will be directly elected.

Ninety more members will be appointed by Egypt's next president, who is expected to be elected in June according to a transition timetable drawn up by the military council to whom Mr. Mubarak ceded power nearly a year ago.

After the Shura Council elections are complete, both houses of parliament will be tasked with selecting a 100-member panel to draft the country's new constitution.

Islamist parties won more than 70 percent of the seats in the lower house, which began its work last week. Many Egyptians say they are tired of the long, complex election process, as continued protests and a worsening economy dampen the public mood.

Hundreds of Egyptians demanding an immediate end to military rule clashed on Sunday with rivals in civilian clothes they described as “thugs” outside central Cairo's state television building.

Protesters chanted “Down with military rule!” as gunshots rang out, but it was unclear who was firing.

State radio said residents in a poor area near the site of the demonstration had challenged the protesters because they were disrupting shops and businesses in the area.

Protesters often say such “thugs” — usually youths in plain clothes and sometimes members of the police force — have been hired by authorities to disrupt peaceful demonstrations.

Also Sunday, Egypt's foreign ministry said it had ended contracts with three U.S. lobbying companies to cut expenses, denying earlier claims by the Washington firms that they had severed ties with the country.

The Egyptian foreign ministry's statement comes two days after the U.S. newspaper Politico reported that former Republican Representative Bob Livingston, former Democratic Representative Toby Moffett and lobbyist Tony Podesta ended their contracts with the Egyptian government.

Their firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government's raid last month on several American nonprofit organizations.

The dispute occurred as Cairo faces criticism from the United States for banning at least 10 Americans and Europeans from leaving the country as part of an investigation into foreign-funded civil society organizations.

Among those barred is Sam LaHood of the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, who is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.