An overwhelming majority of citizens in Egypt voted "yes" to several proposed constitutional amendments in a national referendum that took place on Saturday, according to preliminary results released Sunday. According to a source from the high judicial committee overseeing the referendum, voter turnout reached 60 percent and 70 percent of voters approved constitutional reform that would allow Egypt's military rulers to proceed with the new election process, with parliamentary elections taking place as early as September [Reuters reports]. The majority approval is a milestone [JURIST comment] for Egypt during its transition to a democratic society following the national uprising [JURIST news archive] against former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile]. The referendum was a stark contrast [BBC report] from previous elections under Mubarak, where results where pre-determined and voter turnout was extremely low. Both the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood [party website] supported the amendments to Egypt's constitution [text], which include lowering the presidential term limit and mandating new criteria for potential presidential candidates. The referendum vote, however, was not without some controversy. Four human rights groups, including the New World Foundation for Development and Human Rights [official website], filed a complaint [report] with the judiciary committee claiming irregularities during the referendum vote. Among the allegations are that voters were being influenced at the polls, no judges were present at several polling stations and that other stations had run out of ballots and were printing and using unofficial ballot papers. The official results of the referendum are expected to be announced on Sunday evening.
The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last month announced the formation of the judicial committee [JURIST report] to oversee amending the Egyptian constitution. When the council assumed power, it indicated that part of its transition plan [proclamation text] was to form a committee to amend constitutional articles prior to holding a public referendum. The plan followed the intentions of ousted president Mubarak, who had approved the formation of a panel [JURIST report] to amend the constitution before he resigned. Mubarak stepped down after nearly three weeks of demonstrations [Al Jazeera report] protesting the Egyptian government and calling for his resignation. Mubarak's resignation left state affairs in the hands of the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which pledged to lift the country's emergency laws [JURIST report] that were in place for nearly 30 years once circumstances in the country improved. The Council also vowed to have a peaceful transition to power and promised not to prosecute "honourable people who refused corruption and demanded for reform." Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to violence against protesters [JURIST report] in various countries across the Middle East and North Africa [BBC backgrounder] currently embroiled in protests. During the three weeks of protests leading up to Mubarak's resignation, nearly 400 people were killed and 5,500 were wounded.