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Egyptian parliament approves revamped election law

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Maggie Fick

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's parliament approved a revised election law on Thursday setting rules for a parliamentary poll later this year, but opposition politicians denounced the new statute and repeated a threat to boycott the vote.

The Islamist-dominated upper house will now send the text to the Supreme Constitutional Court to check the legality of the voting procedures for a new lower house. The court has 45 days to review the bill.

President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist elected last year, originally called elections for April but postponed them when the court annulled the decree setting the dates.

Mursi has said elections could now begin in October, completing the democratic transition from the rule of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak after more than two years of political and economic turmoil.

However, opposition members told Reuters they believed the upper house's passage of a flawed law showed that Mursi and his Islamist allies were determined to press ahead without seeking a national consensus.

A separate court ruling last year dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-led lower chamber elected in 2011-12.

The opposition National Salvation Front, a loose alliance of leftist and liberal parties, had said it would boycott the April elections, arguing that the law was rigged to suit Islamists and demanding a neutral government to guarantee a fair vote.

Members of the opposition alliance said the adoption of the new law gave them no reason to participate in the polls.

VOTE BOYCOTT THREAT

"There are many signs that the Mursi government and the Muslim Brotherhood have no intention of allowing fair elections," said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the opposition Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a member of the NSF.

Abolghar said the NSF would not participate in the polls unless Mursi met conditions announced by senior opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday, including the appointment of a panel to draft a new elections law.

"The law passed today gives us no new assurances of legal elections," Heba Yassin, a spokeswoman for the leftist Popular Current party, told Reuters. "This law will only help the Mursi government and his Islamist allies in their effort to dominate all of Egypt's institutions."

Liberal and secular parties have criticised the removal of a ban on using religion slogans in campaigning, which some say opens the door for political abuses of faith among a deeply religious population.

Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, another member of the NSF, said the upper house of parliament is dominated by Islamists who refused to listen to secular politicians.

"A candidate should campaign on how he will help solve the problems of society, not on his religious beliefs," he said.

Tarek Radwan, Egypt analyst at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center in Washington, said permitting religious slogans could increase polarisation along sectarian lines, particularly in the wake of Muslim-Christian violence this month.

Eight people were killed in fighting at a Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo and in a town outside the capital in the worst sectarian strife since Mursi was elected last June.

(Writing By Maggie Fick; Editing by Paul Taylor and Mark Heinrich)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130411/egypt-parliament-approves-revamped-election-law