Egyptians vote for constitutional changes

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Almost 90% of voters in an Egyptian referendum approve constitutional changes, the election commission said, in a move that could pave the way for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power until 2030.

Voter turnout during the three-day referendum was 44.33% and 88.83% of them approved the amendments with 11.17% voting no, the commission said.

“These changes are effective from now as your constitution,” commission Chairman Lasheen Ibrahim said after he announced the result on state TV, adding more than 23.4 million voters endorsed the changes in the referendum.

The amendments will extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to run again for a third six-year term in 2024 and to appoint one or more vice presidents.

They will also grant the president control over appointing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of candidates and give Egypt’s  military the role of protecting “the constitution and democracy”.

Michele Dunne, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, questioned the credibility of the turnout figure.

“Rather than being a reflection of actual data, the announced 44% turnout is more likely an attempt to portray the most legitimate constitutional referendum, as it has the highest turnout reported,” she said.

A group of opposition figures, who launched an online campaign opposing the amendments later blocked , also cast doubt about the result. They said the voting process was undemocratic and left no room for Egyptians to express opposing views.

“Sisi’s machine of oppression denied the Egyptian peoples’ right to express opinions, obstructing possible peaceful ways for Egyptians to express rejection,” the opposition members said in a statement. They added government used public money to distribute electoral bribes.

“We do not recognise this outcome from a sham referendum and consider it null and void, both formally and substantively,” they said.

The electoral commission said it had not received any formal complaints about irregularities.

The commission has strict measures in place to ensure a fair and free vote, posting judges at each polling station and using special ink to prevent multiple voting.

Sisi expressed his “appreciation and pride” on Twitter to the Egyptian people who “dazzled the world with their awareness of the challenges” facing Egypt by participating in the referendum.

Sisi supporters say he has stabilised Egypt and needs more time to reform and develop the economy.

Critics fear the constitutional changes will shrink any remaining space for political competition and debate, paving the way for a long period of one-man rule.