26 Dec 2012

New elections in Egypt before March

9:32 pm on 26 December 2012

Parliamentary elections will be held in Egypt within the next two months, after a decisive 'yes' vote in a referendum on a new constitution.

President Mohammed Morsi signed the controversial document into law after election officials announced that nearly two-thirds of those who voted were in favour.

Backers of President Morsi have urged all Egyptians to work together on the constitution.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said Egyptians should "begin building our country's rebirth with free will... men, women, Muslims and Christians".

More than 60% of voters backed the constitution in a referendum, although only a third of the electorate voted.

Critics say the document favours Islamists and betrays the revolution.

President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in February 2011 after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

After the referendum result was announced on Tuesday, dozens of anti-constitution protesters blocked one of the main bridges in the capital Cairo, setting tyres alight and stopping traffic.

The political divisions surrounding the referendum have led to economic uncertainty and a reported rush to buy US dollars.

Currency exchanges in parts of Cairo were said to have run out of dollars. Before the result was announced, the authorities declared a limit of $US10,000 for travellers into and out of Egypt.

On Monday, Egypt's central bank issued a statement saying that the banks had "stable liquidity" to safeguard all deposits.

The BBC reports that President Morsi's government will soon have to take some unpopular measures to prop up the economy, which could hurt his party at the ballot box.

On Tuesday, Mr Badie welcomed the referendum's results, tweeting: "Congratulations to the Egyptian people on approving the constitution of revolutionary Egypt".

Echoing his words, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil stressed that there was "no loser" in the vote and called for co-operation with the government to restore the economy.

Opposing views

President Morsi's mainly Islamist supporters say that the new constitution will secure democracy and encourage stability.

But opponents accuse the president, who belongs to the Brotherhood, of pushing through a text that favours Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians, who make up about 10% of the population.

Turnout was 32.9% of Egypt's total of 52 million voters, election commission President Samir Abul Maati told a news conference in Cairo.

Egypt has recently seen large demonstrations by both critics and supporters of the constitution, which have occasionally turned violent.

Before the first round of voting on 15 December, the opposition considered boycotting the referendum before deciding to back a No vote.

Polling had to be held on two days because of a lack of judges prepared to supervise the process.