Confusion greets Egypt’s democratic experiment

CAIRO (AFP) — Confused Egyptian voters and officials tried Wednesday to adjust to indelible ink, independent monitors, party delegates and multi-choice ballots, in the country’s first contested presidential poll.
In the Khaled Ben Walid School in the Cairo suburb of Shubra Al Khima, two judges debated which ink they were supposed to ask voters to dip their finger in. “Which one is it, red or blue? It’s the red one, isn’t it?” Judge Mahmud Darwish asked his colleague.

“No, I think the red one comes off too easily,” the other replied.

Two polling station employees proudly wearing badges of incumbent President Hosni Mubarak manned computers set up outside to guide voters to the right booth.

Dozens of Egyptians clustered around the small table and shouted out their names. Eventually some of them were given a booth number scribbled on a small piece of paper bearing Mubarak’s campaign portrait.

Activists from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) were still actively campaigning Wednesday, with vans blaring messages of support to the four-term president: “Mubarak is peace, Mubarak is wisdom, Mubarak is the future.”

Some were still putting up Mubarak posters in front of polling stations minutes before they opened while others had been bused in to distribute leaflets to voters as they walked in.

In the troubled Sinai peninsula in the north of the country, polling was also marred by a lack of information over where to vote.

“I am tired. Since this morning, I have been hopping from one polling station to another and I have no idea where I’m supposed to vote,” said 57-year-old Ismail Ali from the city of Ismailiya.

In Upper Egypt, an AFP correspondent reported widespread confusion as judges expelled party delegates from their polling stations, thus discouraging many voters from casting their ballot.

Delegates from some of the 10 parties competing in the election in the town of Minya, 250 kilometres south of Cairo, complained of discrepancies between voter registers they were handed and those used by the judges.

After voting in his Cairo stronghold of Bab Al Sharia, Mubarak’s main challenger, Ayman Nur, complained that the whole process took seven minutes.

“At this rate, there will not be enough time for everybody to vote,” he said.

The NDP said even it had filed a complaint to the electoral commission charging that judges were impeding the voting process by slowing the flow of voters.

However, Egyptians did not appear to be flocking to polling stations, through lack of interest for a battle Mubarak has already won or due to logistical problems.

Cairo’s City of the Dead, one of the world’s largest inhabited cemeteries, was no exception and only a handful of residents from this impoverished area took the trouble

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