Cairo, March 21 (DPA) Egyptians voted in favour of constitutional changes that pave the way for an early parliamentary elections in a few months, poll results announced by the High Judicial Commission of the Referendum showed Sunday.
Some 14 million people, or 77.2 percent of those who voted, endorsed a package of nine changes, according to Judge Ahmed Attiya, head of the commission.
Voters approved amendments mostly dealing with electoral processes. The changes reduce the presidential term to four years, impose a two-term limit and ease restrictions on who can run for president.
It also makes it more arduous for a president to continue the current state of emergency that has lasted for the past 29 years.
More than 18.5 million people voted Saturday, in the first public poll since Hosni Mubarak was toppled as president five weeks ago.
This was an estimated 41 percent of the 45 million eligible voters, an unprecedented turnout in the country for several decades. Barely six million people voted in November’s parliamentary elections, which were marred with allegations of fraud and voter irregularities.
“Before, poll results were settled beforehand, but after the Jan 25 revolution, Egyptian citizens realized their votes are valuable,” Attiya told a press briefing Sunday night.
People had headed to polling stations across Egypt in groups, with their families and friends – an uncommon scene in a country of 80 million people.
Earlier Sunday, US Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, hailed the vote as an important step towards realizing the aspirations of the Jan 25 revolution.
“The sight of Egyptians coming forward in unprecedented numbers to peacefully exercise their newly-won freedoms is cause for great optimism, and will provide a foundation for further progress as Egyptians continue to build their democratic future,” she said in a statement.
The polls gave millions of first-time voters the chance to have their say in a constitutional referendum that many believed will decide the fate of the largely-peaceful revolution.
Former President Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years, was serving his fifth term when a popular uprising forced him to resign Feb 11.
One of the changes requires the new parliament to appoint a constitutional committee within six months of taking office that will be responsible for drafting a new constitution.
Egypt’s former ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, both urged a “yes” vote on the referendum. Observers said the changes serve them as they would the most organized political groups ready for quick elections.
Other opposition parties pushed for a “no” vote, including a coalition of youth activists who led the 18-day revolution that toppled Mubarak.
Wael Ghonim, a leading online activist behind the Facebook page that helped launched the revolution, said he accepts the outcome, though he has voted against the changes.
“I accept the outcome of the referendum as Egypt’s future needs us all to respect the majority opinion. We all have one country and we all must work for a better tomorrow,” he said on his Twitter account.
British Member of the European Parliament Richard Howitt said that the ‘yes’ vote requires Europe and the international community to give support for the development of diverse political and civil groups in the country.
“The observers heard loud and clear concerns from opposition activists that early elections would disadvantage new parties compared to remnants of the old order, and Europe must redouble our efforts to support the country in developing a genuine political plurality,” said the legislator, who observed the poll.