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Low Turnout in Egypt Poll Amid Opposition Boycott, Labor Unrest

Turnout has been very light in Egypt's local council elections as the main opposition group urged its followers to boycott the election when its candidates were disqualified. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

Most polling stations in Cairo appeared to be almost empty amid an opposition boycott and a general feeling of apathy among the voters, as well as anxiety over clashes to the north of the capital.

The election was taking place after two days of riots over food prices and low wages in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla, where a teenage boy was shot by police overnight and later died of his wounds.

A number of arrests was reported in the town Tuesday, and the prime minister went to negotiate with the workers. Reports from Mahalla said voting had been canceled there after the clashes, and some of the seats there were handed out to opposition and independent candidates.

Local council elections have taken on a new significance since the constitution was amended last year, requiring any independent candidate for president to have the support of at least 140 local councilors. But almost all opposition candidates disqualified, few people seemed to be bothering to vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is Egypt's largest opposition group even though it is officially banned, announced Monday it was boycotting the poll because election officials allowed only 20 of its candidates to register. There are 52,000 local council seats, and the group tried to field 10,000 candidates.

The state-run MENA news agency said 70 percent of the races nationwide had already been decided because candidates from the ruling National Democratic Party were running unopposed.

In central-Cairo's conservative Manial neighborhood polling stations appeared largely abandoned. A 23-year-old man named Hani said he had no plans to vote.

"Yes I did, in the last election I voted, but this one I do not think I am going to vote," said Hani. "Because I think this time it is not so fair like the other one, so I am not going to vote because I think it is not going to be so fair, so I am not going to participate in it."

He did not say what party or candidate he might have supported, but he indicated that whoever it was did not make it onto the ballot.

"Because I have heard that they have neglected some candidates and they have removed some names from the list, so I am not going to participate in it," he said.

Even people who support the ruling party said they see little reason to vote. A few blocks away, a man who called himself Abu Laila said he was a proud member of the ruling NDP, but had no intention of voting.

He said he does not have a voter registration card and does not want one. He said, "Whatever the party wants will happen. Myself, I am a member of the NDP, and I support the NDP, but I do not like voting and chaos and all that stuff."

He said he has been disillusioned by previous elections where candidates have promised a lot during the campaign but then failed to deliver.

He said, "As soon as they get their seat, they just ... forget about us, and we do not see them after the elections."

He gestures dismissively at a nearby wall, where the faces of local candidates peer out from election posters, all bearing the ruling-party logo.

He said, "Ask anyone, do you know who your representative is? And they will say no, we do not know him, we just see his picture on the walls."

At nearby polling stations, police appeared to be systematically keeping journalists out. One officer burst out laughing when a VOA reporter asked to see the voting room. He insisted that party agents and independent election monitors were inside, but reporters were not to be allowed in.

An early report by one monitoring group indicated some irregularities with the voter registration lists and noted incidents of vote-buying, which residents of some districts of Cairo also reported seeing.