CAIRO— Tentative results from Saturday's first round of voting in Egypt's constitutional referendum are showing a narrow lead for supporters of the document. Opposition and civil society groups allege vote fraud, while the head of Egypt's electoral commission denied those charges.
Egyptian media and rival political groups are reporting that around 56.5 percent of voters approved the country's controversial new constitution in the first round of polling Saturday. Initial results also indicate that about one-third of 26 million eligible voters cast their ballots.
Voting, however, was marred by various irregularities and violations, according to witnesses. Civil society groups are urging the government to repeat the first round because of alleged fraud.
Opposition leader Sameh Ashour charged, in a press conference, that many of those allowed to supervise polling stations were not judges. A large portion of Egypt's judiciary boycotted the referendum, and a top judicial body, the Judges' Club, he claims, observed many non-judges overseeing the vote.
Related: VOA's Al Pessin talked with Egyptians as they cast their ballots
Ashour says it should be ample evidence that the Judges' Club, which is boycotting the referendum, determined there were 120 individuals falsely impersonating judges and allowed to supervise polling stations and vote counting.
Baha'eddin Hassan of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights told reporters that a variety of violations and fraud took place during Saturday's voting.
He says the numerous irregularities included preventing civil society groups from observing the vote, allowing members of the Muslim Brotherhood to enter polling stations, and allowing "pseudo-judges" to resort to violence and thuggery and terrorize voters.
Despite the charges, the judge who heads Egypt's High Electoral Commission, Zaghloul al-Balshi, insisted that the vote was impartial and fair.
He says the High Electoral Commission received various allegations which are creating a tempest among voters. He says, however, that the charges are not true.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party argue that a “yes” vote for the new constitution will foster stability in the country and help Egypt move forward with its transition. Opponents say the document will create instability.
Opposition leaders claim that the draft constitution is deliberately vague and could lead to an theocracy, where Islamic clerics vet laws and legislate morality. They warn that the document does not protect women's rights and allows the president to pack the Supreme Court.
Sayyid Bedawi, of the opposition Wafd Party, warned that secular Egyptians would continue their peaceful protests against the document.
He says the Islamists want a civil war, but that neither the opposition, nor the Egyptian people will allow them to do that. He charges that Islamists want to cheat with the referendum, but they won't get away with it, and the crisis won't go away.
Bedawi's Wafd Party offices in Giza were attacked and set on fire Saturday. The opposition blamed members of an extremist Salafi faction.
A final round of the two-stage referendum will take place next Saturday in 17 remaining Egyptian provinces. About 26 million people are on the voting roles for the second round - the same number eligible in the first round which covered 10 provinces including the capital, Cairo.