Egypt opposition urges 'no' vote on constitution

Egypt’s main opposition alliance called for a “No” vote in the referendum on a disputed constitution rather than a boycott, hours after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s government forged ahead by starting overseas voting in diplomatic missions for expatriates.

The opposition’s decision did not dispel the atmosphere of a nation in crisis, deeply polarized over the referendum that has stoked three weeks of turmoil on the streets. The opposition still plans more protests and the country’s judges are still on strike over a decree by Morsi, since rescinded, that placed him above judicial oversight. And if the referendum passes, there is potential for even greater upheaval.

There are also growing concerns about the already flailing economy a day after Egypt requested a postponement of a $4.8 billion IMF loan. Morsi suspended a package of tax hikes that had been part of a program to reduce Egypt’s huge budget deficit for fear the measure would add to political tensions.

The opposition said it still may boycott the vote starting in Egypt on Saturday if its conditions are not met.

Hamdeen Sabahi, one of the leaders of the opposition National Salvation Front, said at a news conference the alliance would urge its supporters to boycott if judges do not oversee the vote and the state does not provide security at the polls. The country’s major judges’ union said on Tuesday it would boycott the referendum, abstaining from their traditional role of oversight at the polls.

“The Front decided to call upon the people to go to the polling stations and reject the draft by saying ‘No,’” said Sabahi, a leftist politician who finished a close third in the June presidential election narrowly won by Morsi. “The people will rally at the polls and have a chance to topple the constitution by saying ‘No,’” he said, reading from a prepared statement. The Islamist-dominated constitution drafting committee rushed through the document in a marathon session last month. Islamists say its approval will restore political stability and allow the rebuilding of government institutions.

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