Egyptians vote on landmark constitutional amendments

Egyptians vote on landmark constitutional amendments

Egyptians line up at a polling station in Cairo on Saturday as they prepare to vote on referendum on constitutional amendments. AP

Tasting the joys of a free vote in decades after overthrowing the authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak, the people swarmed to polling booths since early morning to decide on a fixed tenure for the president and to appoint a deputy.

The referendum, sponsored by the ruling military, would pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held by the year end. The voters would also decide on introduction of a multiple-party system in the nation, exposed to one party rule for over three decades.

About 40 million Egyptians are eligible to cast their vote. The country's two political blocs, the National Democratic Party and Muslim Brotherhood, back the proposals.
But, most secular groups and leading reform activists, including Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, oppose the passage of the amendments, saying it would create a new dictator.

The amendments limit the presidential tenure to two terms of four years each. The amendments also have provision for judicial supervision of all elections -- parliamentary and presidential. The amendments, however, do not touch on the authorities of the president who remains the head of the judiciary, police and executive estate. He/She will also have to power to dissolve both parliament and remove the cabinet or call for the amendment of the constitution.

Pro-democracy activists say the changes do not go far enough and want the plan rejected. They say the constitution needs to be entirely rewritten before elections can be held.

Presidential candidate, Judge Hesham al-Bastawisi, has said a "new constitution to form a parliamentarian state and limit the authorities of the President is among the most important requests of the revolution". The voting which started at 8 am (local time) is being supervised by 16,000 members of the different judicial bodies, while the police will secure all polling stations.

The first Deputy Chairman of the State Council Muhammad Ahmed Atiyah, who is also the head of a judicial committee the referendum, said they offer "all possible facilities to enable civil society organisations, agencies concerned and media outlets to observe voting" and that they will provide necessary related permits.

An appointed panel of experts drew up the proposed amendments in just 10 days following Mubarak's resignation in February after 18 days of mass uprising, largely centred on Cairo's Tahrir Square.