INTERNATIONAL

Tension high in the final round of polls in Egypt

Atul Aneja

DUBAI: Egyptian voters have cast their ballots in the final round of parliamentary polls amid tensions following the arrest of hundreds of members of the Opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

Candidates of the banned Islamist group have been participating not under their party's banner, but as individuals. Nevertheless, the group appears to have been subjected to a fresh crackdown, after its candidates began to fare relatively well in the earlier rounds of voting.

Ruling party ahead

The Brotherhood has claimed that more than 500 of its members have been detained in the last two days. The arrests, it alleged, took place in the governorates where Thursday's elections were contested.

The Government, however, has denied any knowledge of the detentions. More than 10 million Egyptians were eligible to vote in Thursday's third and final round, where 136 seats in the 454-member Parliament were contested. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak has already won 201 seats, and is expected have a majority in the new Parliament.

The Muslim Brotherhood has won 76 seats in the first two rounds — a five-fold increase from its present strength in Parliament. It has led a welfare-oriented campaign under the slogan, "Islam is the solution". It has demonstrated its grassroots support in a country where NDP has been the dominant political force by far.

Reports of voting irregularities had begun to emerge, when poll monitors said that the polling during the second round on Saturday last had been marred by clashes between rival political groups, intimidation and fraud.