State sources in Egypt have said that partial results indicate clear support for the country's latest constitution. This paper's main opponents, the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, had advocated boycotting the ballot.
State media and government sources in Egypt said late on Wednesday that the country's new constitution was liable to win 90-percent approval, or more. They were citing preliminary results, hours after polling stations closed on Wednesday following the two-day vote.
The military interim government in Egypt had said the new paper would provide greater protection for women's rights and freedom of speech. The only major group openly opposing the constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood that was formerly in power, has been outlawed and labeled a terrorist organization. The body had also urged its supporters to boycott the referendum altogether, rather than submit a "no" vote.
State news agency MENA reported the likely 90-percent approval rate but did not make estimates on turnout. The government's stated goal was to exceed the roughly 33-percent turnout in Egypt's last constitutional referendum - when 64 percent of participants supported a constitution drawn up by a panel dominated by Brotherhood members.
"We are hoping it exceeds 50 percent," government spokesman Hany Salah told news agency AFP when asked about turnout. Some 53 million Egyptians were eligible to vote, but no recent ballot - including the crucial presidential runoff in 2012 - has mobilized even half of Egypt's electorate. Finalized official results were promised "within 72 hours" on Wednesday.
The Interior Ministry said that a total of 444 people were arrested over the two days of voting, nine were killed in clashes between police and Brotherhood supporters on Tuesday.
Vote could restart US military aid
Dissatisfaction with the previous constitution was often cited as one of the reasons why President Mohammed Morsi was ultimately toppled by army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is considering a run at the presidency himself. The general has said he would be interested in the role if there were "popular demand," with turnout at the referendum one such indicator.
Morsi became Egypt's first democratically-elected president by narrowly winning a runoff vote against independent Ahmed Shafik in May 2012.
The constitutional referendum has been billed as an early step back towards democratic rule in Egypt, to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections. US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was hoping for a "transparent and accountable" referendum, as Washington considers restarting military aid to its strategic Middle East partner. The assistance was stopped last October, three months after Morsi was removed from office.
According to State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, Congress is expected to pass a bill on Friday that would allow the White House to unfreeze all $1.5 billion in US aid if it can certify that Egypt "has held a constitutional referendum, and is taking steps to support a democratic transition."
msh/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)