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Egypt’s Voters Approve New Constitution With 98 Percent in Favor

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s new constitution was approved by about 98 percent of voters in a referendum that the army-backed government called a key step in its plan to restore democracy.

Voter turnout was 38.6 percent, Nabil Salib, head of the Supreme Election Commission, told reporters in Cairo. The two- day referendum was boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood, which fielded ousted President Mohamed Mursi for office and denounced the vote as an attempt to legitimize a military coup. At least four people were killed and 15 wounded in clashes yesterday between security forces and Islamists, the Health Ministry said.

The constitution, drafted by a panel dominated by secularists, is designed to replace a charter approved with a 33 percent turnout under Mursi and written by a mostly Islamist committee. Presidential and parliamentary elections will follow later this year.

The vote is the first since the military intervention. The man who led Mursi’s ouster, army chief Abdelfatah al-Seesi, hasn’t ruled out running for president. Turnout was key for the military-backed government, with local media billing a higher turnout than for the constitutional vote under Mursi, a sign that Egyptians are supporting the proposed road map to take the country to democracy after the June 30 uprising.

Bethesda, Maryland-based Democracy International, which sent more than 80 observers to the vote, said it had “serious concerns” about the referendum.

“There was no real opportunity for those opposed to the government’s road map or the proposed constitution to dissent,” Democracy International President Eric Bjornlund said in a statement yesterday on the organization’s website.

Of a total of about 53 million registered voters, 20.6 million cast ballots, Salib said. Of those, almost 20 million voted in favor of the amended constitution, while 381,341 were opposed, he said.

“What’s important in the constitution is not its meaning, but its credibility on the ground and what it guarantees in terms of the principles of justice and equality among all Egyptians,” Salib said.

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