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The Egyptian government is announcing results of its controversial parliamentary elections today. Not surprisingly, unofficial results show the ruling party decimated the opposition. But the contest was marred by allegations of widespread fraud and voter intimidation. Protests erupted across Egypt in the wake of the voting.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports that opposition candidates who are eligible for next Sunday's runoff vote are now threatening to withdraw.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: As few as one out of every 10 Egyptians went to the polls last Sunday. Even if you accept the Egyptian government count, at best it was one out of every three.
(Soundbite of a crowd)
NELSON: The low turnout wasn't necessarily by choice. Like here in the Cairo suburb of Shubra el-Kheima, where a crowd of angry voters fought in vain with state security agents to get inside this neighborhood school. Inside, there were a dozen polling stations set up in run-down classrooms. But there were no voters.
Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Only poll workers like this guy with stacks of empty ballots piled high in front of him.
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: And state security agents like this one. He grilled an NPR team that had government permission to visit the center.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: This one is a polling station. I mean, it's...
Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: After more wrangling, the team was allowed in. Agents even allowed a quick peek at the ballot boxes. They were made of wood and glass and had no security tape or seals, only small padlocks. That suggested the boxes could be tampered with and not leave a trace.
(Soundbite of video)
NELSON: This video posted on YouTube on Election Day, and recorded secretly on a cell phone, appears to show an instance of fraud. In the video, election workers fill out ballots and hand them over to colleagues who carry them out of the camera's range.
Observers say it's hard to gauge the scope of the fraud that occurred in last Sunday's polls. Few independent monitors or representatives for opposition candidates were allowed inside the 44,000 polling stations.
State security forces controlled which voters got to cast their ballots, especially in neighborhoods like Shubra el-Kheima, where candidates loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood were running.
Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Lawyer Salaheddin Issa, who represents one such candidate, claimed he was punched in the jaw by state security agents when he tried to get inside. His candidate barely made it to next Sunday's runoff, where he'll run against the ruling party candidate. But incumbent lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagui predicts he'll lose if the government employs the same tactics as it did last Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian government says it will investigate complaints about voting irregularities. Local and international groups expressed doubt, however.
Joe Stork is a deputy director with Human Rights Watch. He and others at a news conference blasted the polls' lack of transparency and the government's strong-arm tactics.
Mr. JOE STORK (Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch, Middle East and North Africa Division): Now draw your own conclusions about what that says about what went on behind the doors. Draw your own conclusions about what that says about how those votes were counted.
It's up to the government, I think, at this point to show that our suspicions are totally groundless.
NELSON: He and others also criticized what they said was a lack of real international pressure on Egypt to hold free and fair elections. But senior U.S. officials did issue statements voicing concern and disappointment over the alleged misconduct during this election season.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.