CAIRO, March 16 (Reuters) - Egyptians vote on Saturday in a referendum on changes to the constitution drawn up by a judicial panel tasked with drafting amendments that would allow free and fair elections.
Egypt’s constitution was suspended by the military council that took power after mass protests forced President Hosni Mubarak from office on Feb. 11.
The referendum has divided reformist Egyptians between those who say the proposed changes are insufficient and those who say they will do for now. [ID:LDE72E1KC]
Following are referendum procedures and views for and against:
Constitutional amendments cap a president’s time in office to eight years, two-four-year terms, and demand he appoints a vice president within 60 days of taking office.
They also enforce judicial supervision of elections, stipulate parliament must approve any state of emergency and cancels the president’s right to use military courts.
Up to 45 million citizens are eligible to vote in the referendum in more than 54,000 polling stations across Egypt to be monitored by 17,000 judges, the referendum committee said.
Voters 18 years of age or older will be allowed to cast ballots using just their National ID cards, openning the door to many Egyptians who do not have special voting cards that were manditory in previous elections.
Polls open on Saturday at 8 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). The army will deploy 37,000 soldiers to help police forces secure the streets.
If voters approve the amendments, parliamentary elections will take place in late September.
Should they reject the amendments, the military council will immediately issue a constitutional decree as a temporary charter until parliamentary and presidential polls.
Elections would be pushed to December and early 2012 and the the army would remain in power until elections are held, security sources said.
Opposition forces and reformists are pushing for a presidential council of technocrats, judiciary and a military officer to run the country until elections as an alternative to pure military rule.
Pro-democracy youth activists who led the Jan. 25 Revolution have called for a “no” vote, with several activists touring cities across country to mobilise mass rejection.
“We do not want a constitutional patchwork ushering in this democratic phase,” pro-democracy activist Ziad el-Elemi said.
Protest groups Kefaya, April Sixth, the coalition for January 25 Revolution have called for a united front to resist the referendum which they said in a group statement was “an attempt to abort revolution”.
They called for a “founding assembly” which the people would elect to write the new constitution after which parliamentary and presidential elections would be held.
Others have called for appointing a presidential council of technocrats and judiciary to write the constitution and steer the transitional period.
Reformists and politicians running for presidency have unanimously rejected the constitutional amendments.
-- Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said the amendments would take Egypt in the “opposite direction” of reform and said he would vote against them:
“Keeping Mubarak’s constitution, even temporarily, is an insult to the revolution. Voting ”Yes“ in the referendum resuscitates Mubarak’s constitution resulting in a flawed parliament.”
“If we go ahead with these amendments this means we would have a parliamentary election within two months where 80 percent of Egyptians, the silent majority, would not have a chance to participate in a real parliamentary process...It would only be a parliament of the remnants of the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood”. [ID:nLDE72900E]
--Presidential candidate Amr Moussa also rejected the amendments:
“The current constitution has already been overriden and it is of no benefit continuing to rely on it or amend it.”
“Writing a new constitution is a priority for political action in Egypt and that is something the proposed constitutional declaration must state.”
Many political parties of the opposition reject the referendum including the leftist Tagammu Party, Ghad Party, and the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party.
The Democratic Front Party denounced the referendum and said it threatens the “ambitions of the people for a new constitution and their hopes for a democratic system where freedom and social justice reign supreme,” the party statement said.
The party said the new constitution must reflect the social, cultural, and political context brought about by the revolution.
“After study of the proposed changes, it is evident there are constitutional flaws in more than one subject”.
The liberal nationalist Wafd party has also rejected the amendments: “The proposed amendments do not limit the powers of the president and that is something we highly fear. We don’t want another Mubarak to rule us,” said Yassin Tageldin, deputy head of Wafd.
“The changes are made to a constitution that has already fallen with the fall of the previous president. The changes are not enough, a new constitution has to be made to pave the road for a democratic civil state,”.
But the New National Democratic Party, formerly Mubarak’s ruling party, backed the amendments:
“I have issued guidelines to leaders and members of the party in different governorates to support the constitutional amendments for what it bring about in constitutional legitimacy and in taking us to a new stage of national work,” party leader Mohamed Ragab said.
The Wasat party, made up of ex-Muslim Brotherhood and ex-Islamist members, have backed the amendments and the referendum.
“We are with idea of changing the whole constitution yet we agreed on the proposed changes as we want a fast transition to a democratic state run by civilians and not military ruler,” said Abou Elela Mady, the party’s founder.
The biggest organised opposition force in Egypt has backed the amendments, saying the country needed to start functioning again to prevent army rule from dragging on too long.
Opposition forces have criticised the Islamist group’s position, saying that as the only force able to rally support quickly, the Brotherhood would benefit from a quick election at the expense of other weak parties.
But the Brotherhood said it would not seek a majority in parliament, capping its aim at 35-40 percent of seats.
Long oppressed under Mubarak rule, salafists have resurfaced since Mubarak’s fall and some have said they would form political parties and run in parliamentary elections.
“Constitutional amendments are a step in the right direction which we fear if lost, the enemies of the nation would jump in and sabotage the gains of the nation’s loyal sons. Thus the Salafists calls on citizens to vote ”yes“ on Saturday’s refere referendum,” said Sheikh Abdel Moneim Shehata, from the Salafist movement in Alexandria.
Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population and some Coptic Christians have called for the scrapping of Article 2, which says Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence the main source of legislation.
Christians have voiced concern over the possibility that Islamists and the Brotherhood dominate parliamentary elections and have therefore called for a new constitution and more time to non-Islamic political forces to gather grassroots momentum.
“Anyone is free in one’s opinion but our role as those responsible for enlightenment we tell people that these amendments serve the brotherhood’s ideology,” said Father Metyas.
“I see we should say ‘No’ because such amendments are not valid to build a modern civil state, and that isn’t our opinion alone but also that of any moderate Egyptian who wants a civil state.”
For a feature on the referendum, click [ID:LDE72E1KC] (Reporting by Dina Zayed, Sarah Mikhail, Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Angus MacSwan)