98.1 pc Egyptians approve new constitution

Cairo: An overwhelming 98.1 per cent of voters approved Egypt’s new constitution in a nationwide referendum, widely seen as a vote on a likely presidential bid by army chief Gen Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

The Supreme Electoral Committee (SEC) on Saturday announced that the newly drafted national charter was approved by 98.1 per cent of voters, Al-Ahram online reported.

According to SEC chief Nabil Salib, the turnout for the poll was 38.6 per cent of the 20.5 million registered voters, in comparison to 32 per cent during the 2012 referendum.

The new charter would replace the one approved under Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who was toppled by the military in July following mass protests demanding his ouster.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had called for anti-government protests and a boycott of the referendum, seeing it as part of a coup against the freely-elected leader.

The referendum is a key step in the political transition plan billed by the military-backed interim government as a path to democracy, even as it presses a fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood.

The roadmap was announced by army chief El-Sisi after Morsi’s ouster. It stated that the constitution would be followed by parliamentary elections and presidential polls.

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians.

The constitution also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defence minister for the next eight years and empowering military tibunals to try civilians.

Meanwhile, Arabic language newspaper Al Tahrir reported that Egyptian President Adly Mansour will announce that presidential elections will be held in March.

It quoted Essam Eddine Abdel Aziz, first deputy to the head of the State Council, as saying that Mansour will call on people to take part in the polls.

Gen El-Sisi has yet to say outright whether he plans to seek the country’s highest office, but his candidacy appears increasingly likely after the results of the referendum.

Morsi, the first democratically elected president, is being held in jail in Alexandria, facing several criminal charges relating to his time in office. He says they are politically motivated.

More than 1,000 people have died in violence since Morsi’s overthrow.