Egypt to announce result of constitution vote on Tuesday

CAIRO Tue Dec 25, 2012 1:28am IST

Policemen stand guard near a poster outside the constitutional court put up by supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi as they stage a sit-in, in Cairo December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Policemen stand guard near a poster outside the constitutional court put up by supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi as they stage a sit-in, in Cairo December 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will announce on Tuesday the official r esults of a vote on its new constitution, the head of the elections committee told state media on Monday, a step which paves the way for the formation of a new parliament in about two months.

The creation of a new constitution is a vital step in Egypt's transition to democracy almost two years after the fall of military-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.

But the opposition says the text, crafted mostly by President Mohamed Mursi's Islamist allies, fails to guarantee personal freedom and the rights of women and minorities. It says it will lead to more trouble in the most populous Arab nation.

Unofficial tallies from the Muslim Brotherhood - which catapulted Mursi into the presidency this year - indicated that 64 percent had approved the charter. An opposition tally had a similar result.

"The Supreme Elections Committee will announce on Tuesday at 7 P.M. (17:00 GMT) the results of the referendum on the new constitution," judge Samir Abu el-Matti told state radio and TV late on Monday.

Matti also said that the committee, which is led by judges, had spent the last two days investigating opposition and rights' groups accusations of voting fraud.

Mursi's critics said the vote, conducted in two stages in a process that ended on Saturday, had been marred by a litany of irregularities, and have demanded a full inquiry.

The opposition, a loose alliance of socialists, liberal-minded Muslims and Christians, have also noted that less than a third of those eligible turned out to vote, undermining the legitimacy of the new constitution.

ELECTION LOOMS

If the "yes" vote is confirmed, a parliamentary election will follow in about two months, setting the stage for Islamists to renew their battle with more secular-minded opponents.

Opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel peace prize winner, urged Mursi to form an all-inclusive government together with the liberal camp in order to patch up divisions and steer Egypt out of trouble in a democratic way.

"I am ready to join hands with President Mursi on condition that he forms a national (unity) government and speaks as president for all Egyptians," he told the daily Al-Shorouk.

ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency, said a new assembly should rewrite the draft - a call unlikely to be heeded by Mursi, who is keen to push it through quickly.

By forcing the pace on the constitution, Mursi risks squandering the opportunity to build consensus for the austerity measures desperately needed to kick-start a the ailing economy, economists say.

Highlighting investor concerns, Standard and Poor's cut Egypt's long-term credit rating and said another cut was possible if political turbulence worsened.

Responding to what it said were market rumours, the central bank said it was taking steps to safeguard bank deposits.

Some Egyptians say they have withdrawn their funds from banks out of concern that they will be frozen by authorities.

LEGISLATIVE POWERS

Under the new constitution, legislative powers that have been temporarily held by Mursi move to the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament until a new lower house is elected.

The make-up of the Supreme Constitutional Court, which Islamists say is filled with Mubarak-era appointees bent on throwing up legal challenges to Mursi's rule, will also change as its membership is cut to 11 from 18.

Those expected to leave include Tahani al-Gebali, who has described Mursi as an "illegitimate president".

The low turnout in voting on the constitution has prompted some newspapers to question how much support the charter really had, with opponents saying Mursi lost the vote in much of the capital.

"The referendum battle has ended, and the war over the constitution's legitimacy has begun," said newspaper Al-Shorouk, while a headline in Al-Masry Al-Youm read: "Constitution of the minority".

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Saad al-Katatni, wrote on Facebook that the group's members were "extending our hands to all political parties and all national forces", adding: "We will all start a new page."

But the opposition National Salvation Front say the new constitution only deepens a rift between the liberals and Islamists who combined to overthrow Mubarak, and that they will keep challenging it through protests and other democratic means.

"We do not consider this constitution legitimate," liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said on Sunday, arguing that it violated personal freedoms.

The run-up to the referendum was marred by protests triggered by Mursi's decision to award himself broad powers on November 22. At least ten people were killed in clashes in Cairo and violence also flared in Egypt's second city, Alexandria.

(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed and Patrick Werr; Writing by Edmund Blair, Maria Golovnina and Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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