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Egyptians start voting on constitution

20:11 Sat Dec 15 2012
AAP

Egyptians have started voting in the first round of a referendum on a disputed draft constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have campaigned for approving the charter, saying it is necessary to fast-track the transition from the authoritarian rule of president Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to step down almost two years ago.

President Mohamed Morsi cast his ballot in a polling station close to his presidential palace in Cairo, state television showed.

He made no comment to the media.

The opposition says the constitution, drafted by an Islamist-led constituent assembly, could undermine women's and political rights, and sideline minorities.

Critics also say the charter is heavily influenced by Islamists.

The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, has urged a "No" vote.

State media reported that thousands of army and security personnel would be deployed outside polling stations to keep order.

An electoral commission in charge of the process had to spread polling across two days after many judges refused to oversee the balloting in protest at perceived curbs on freedoms in the draft constitution.

Without judicial supervision, polling will be illegal.

About 25.8 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the first round of the polls in 10 provinces and cities including Cairo, according to government figures.

Polls opened at 8am (1700 AEDT) and close at 7pm (0400 AEDT on Sunday).

The second and final stage of the vote is to be held a week later in the country's 17 other provinces.

The final result is to be determined by the majority of the valid ballots cast in both rounds, according to the electoral commission.

No date has been set yet for announcing the result.

If the draft constitution is voted down, President Mohamed Morsi will call an election within three months to pick a new constituent assembly.

In a small queue at a Cairo school serving as a polling station, watched over by police and soldiers, several people said they were voting against the constitution.

"I'm voting because I hate the Muslim Brotherhood, it's very simple. They are liars," said one, Abbas Abdelaziz, a 57-year-old accountant.

Ali Mohammed Ali, an unemployed 65-year-old wearing a traditional long robe, said: "I voted for Morsi and it was a mistake, a big mistake. This constitution is bad, especially because it doesn't forbid child labour and opens the way for the marriage of minors."

Nagat Radi, a veiled woman in her 50s, said many articles in the draft constitution were problematic "and will hurt our country and our children".

She added: "The people are going in one direction and the Brothers in another. Those voting 'yes' believe it is a gesture of piety and obedience to the president."

Others were in favour of the proposed charter.

Enayat Sayyed Mostafa, a retired woman, said: "I'm voting for stability and for Dr Morsi's promised programme of renewal. I have gone over the text to compare it with what the opposition is saying, and what they say is false. It's a good constitution."