CAIRO, May 26: A constitutional amendment introducing the first direct and contested presidential elections in Egypt won 82.9 per cent approval in a referendum, Interior Minister Habib el-Adli announced on Thursday. The turnout in the referendum, which opposition groups had asked Egyptians to boycott, was 53.6 per cent of registered voters, the minister told a news conference.

The new system, replacing referendums on a single presidential candidate chosen by a parliament dominated by the ruling party, takes effect in elections in September. President Hosni Mubarak, 77, who has run the Arab world’s most populous nation since 1981, is expected to seek a fifth six-year term but has not yet said whether he will stand.

The opposition says the conditions on presidential candidates are so restrictive that the ruling party would not face a credible challenge. Opposition spokesmen said the government had exaggerated the turnout in the referendum.

“This rate of attendance is just impossibly high ... It seems the number has been multiplied by five,” said Gameela Ismail, spokeswoman for the opposition Ghad (Tomorrow) Party.

Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which joined the boycott call, said: “I don’t believe this number is possible. We know not more than five or 10 per cent of people go to vote ... I have many doubts about this number.”—Reuters

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