March 20, 2011 1:42:09 am
Eager for their first taste of a free vote in decades,Egyptians lined up by the hundreds on Saturday to vote on constitutional amendments sponsored by the ruling military that critics fear could propel the countrys largest Islamist group to become Egypts most dominant political force.
The nationwide referendum is the first major test of the countrys transition to democracy after a popular uprising forced longtime leader Hosni Mubarak to step down five weeks ago,handing the reins of power to the military.
Early signs show an unusually big turnout,with lines forming in the hours before polls opened.
The vote promises to be the most free in Egypt since the 1952 ouster of the monarchy and the end of a multiparty democracy that functioned under British colonial rule.
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Voters were asked to choose yes or no for the package of nine changes,which would open elections to independent candidates,impose presidential term limits and curtail 30-year-old emergency laws that give police near-unlimited powers. Preliminary results will be announced Sunday.
A yes vote would allow parliamentary and presidential elections to be held later this year or early in the next,a timeframe that critics say is too soon for the dozens of political groups born out of the 18-day anti-Mubarak uprising to organise themselves and be able to effectively compete in elections.
Leading the no campaign are two presidential hopefuls Nobel laureate and former head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency Mohamed ElBaradei,and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa,who is also a former foreign minister in Egypt.
This is a truly democratic process, Moussa told reporters after he voted in Cairo.
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