Mubarak's main opponents were crying foul

President Hosni Mubarak's main opponents in Wednesday's presidential elections were on Thursday crying foul. But independent monitoring groups said that by Egyptian standards, there had been improvements in the conduct of the poll.

Preliminary leaks from the presidential election committee suggested Mr Mubarak would win a fifth term in office with more than 70 per cent of the vote. The official result is expected on Friday. As ballot-counting continued, the dominant question was whether irregularities were sufficiently reduced, by comparison with past elections, to qualify the experiment as a modest beginning.

The media reverted to type. State-run newspapers overflowed with praise for what was Egypt's first contest for the presidency. Opposition and independent papers focused on reports of irregularities. Ayman Nour, the best known of nine opposition contenders, called for a re-run in an interview on the al-Jazeera satellite television channel. The party of the other main opposition candidate, Nomaan Goma, said the vote threw into stark relief the need to end “one-party tyranny”.Mohamed Kamal, a leading member of the Mubarak campaign, portrayed Mr Nour as a poor loser. If there were irregularities, they did not affect the result, he said.

Among human rights groups and analysts positions were mixed. Dhia Rashwan, from the Cairo-based Al-Ahram centre for strategic and political studies, believed there had been a real attempt by the ruling National Democratic party to muster support. That the regime had not resorted to force or called on the security services marked a change, he said.

A proliferation of civil society and rights groups were observing the polls. Some characterised violations as serious enough to discredit the election altogether, while others remarked on improvements compared with past parliamentary elections. They said violations included vote buying, an intimidating presence of National Democratic party militants inside polling stations, some ballot stuffing and the use of government vehicles to truck Mubarak supporters to vote.

In Cairo, there was never more than a trickle of voters, with most inhabitants of the capital concluding the result was pre-ordained. Hafez Abu Seada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights estimated turnout at 20 to 25 per cent. He said that if the official figure was significantly above this it would indicate rigging, Financial Times reports.

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