Cairo - Egypt's military-installed authorities on Thursday hailed a "high turnout" in a constitutional referendum they had billed as an opportunity for voters to pass verdict on last year's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Cairo – Egypt’s military-installed authorities on Thursday hailed a “high turnout” in a constitutional referendum they had billed as an opportunity for voters to pass verdict on last year’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Preliminary tallies reported by state media suggested that more than 90 percent of votes cast had been in support of the new charter, with a 39 percent turnout in most provinces in the two days of polling.
Official results are expected by Saturday.
Aides said army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Morsi following mass protests against his one-year rule, was closely monitoring the vote to assess whether he had sufficient popular support to stand for the presidency himself in an election promised for later this year.
The outcome of the referendum has never been in doubt as Morsi’s Islamist supporters called a boycott.
But the military-installed government is hoping for a large turnout to bolster its democratic credentials after the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president last July.
It was the first vote since Morsi’s ouster, and authorities say the new constitution provides greater protection for freedom of speech and women’s rights than the one adopted under the now ousted Islamist in December 2012.
Ehab Badawy, spokesman for the interim president, “remarked, on the high turnout in the referendum, that it was a beautiful day for Egypt and democracy,” a statement said.
The government said the vote showed support for Morsi’s overthrow.
“This was also a referendum on June 30,” said government spokesman Hany Salah, referring to the day when millions of protesters took to the streets demanding Morsi’s resignation.
A coalition led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has organised near daily rallies against his overthrow, claimed the referendum was a “farce” and pledged further protests.
“We will continue the days of rage,” the Anti-Coup Alliance said.
A student was killed on Thursday in clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents at Cairo University, the interior ministry said.
The referendum has put the Islamists on the back foot, and gives the government even less incentive to negotiate with Morsi’s movement, already blacklisted as a terrorist group and battered by a bloody crackdown.
“We are definitely moving forward, whether they want to or not,” Salah told AFP, referring to the Brotherhood. “We believe they live in a virtual world.”
The Muslim Brotherhood had hoped a low turnout would send a message of discontent over Morsi’s overthrow and the ensuing crackdown.
On Tuesday, clashes between Morsi supporters and their opponents and police killed at least nine people, officials said.
Sisi needs high turnout
The government said it was aiming for a larger turnout than the 33 percent of 53 million registered voters who approved the Morsi era constitution by a 64 percent majority in 2012.
Such a turnout would be an “indicator” of support for a presidential bid by Sisi, said an official close to him.
Analysts say the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood lies on the participation rate.
“A turnout higher than what the 2012 constitution received will show that Morsi and the Brotherhood have been excluded from the country’s political scene, at least in the near term,” Hassan Nafea, professor of political science at Cairo University, told AFP.
The Brotherhood dominated every previous poll since the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.
But the movement, accused of trying to monopolise power, quickly alienated many Egyptians after Morsi took office.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday he hoped the referendum would be “transparent and accountable”.
The State Department has said a bill Congress is expected to pass on Friday will allow the White House to unfreeze all $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in US aid if it can certify Egypt “has held a constitutional referendum, and is taking steps to support a democratic transition.”
The new constitution has done away with much of the Islamist-inspired wording of Morsi’s charter. It also bolsters the military’s powers and allows it to try civilians for attacks on the armed forces.
Interim president Adly Mansour’s government has pledged that the referendum will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.
The Brotherhood, much of whose leadership was jailed after Morsi’s overthrow, is likely to boycott both elections.