Early results point to huge ‘yes’ vote on Egyptian constitution

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An overwhelming majority of Egyptians who voted on the country’s new constitution have backed the draft charter, a senior Egyptian official said yesterday.

But an international monitoring group criticised the clampdown ahead of the vote and said authorities had imposed “severe limits” on freedom of expression.

The election official said unofficial results, after most of ballots have been counted, indicate that more than 90 per cent of the voters have said “yes” to the constitution. He declined to give an estimate on the final turnout.

Meanwhile, Nabil Salib, the head of the Supreme Election Committee, was quoted as saying that final results would be announced in a few days.

The vote held on Tuesday and Wednesday is a milestone for Egypt’s interim government, installed by the military after the ousting last July of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi following mass protests.

The draft is also a key piece of a political roadmap toward new elections and a test of public opinion about the coup that removed Mr Morsi. It is a heavily amended version of a constitution written by his Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 per cent of the vote but with a turnout of just over 30 per cent.

Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group and other Islamist groups boycotted the referendum, calling it “illegitimate”. The country’s second-largest Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, also largely stayed away from the polls, apparently in response to a crackdown against Islamists.

By contrast and raising the prospects of a continued polarisation among Egyptians, long queues formed outside polling stations in major urban areas, with crowds brandishing posters of the country’s military chief, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, chanting in support of the army and women ululating.

Kol Preap, the head of a Transparency International mission which monitored the referendum, said in a report yesterday that while authorities had responded to “a deep desire by the majority of Egyptians to move toward a democratic path,” observers had reported “severe limits on freedom of expression, association, and assembly” in the campaign ahead of the vote.