CAIRO - Islamists and liberals on Thursday accused election officials of filling out ballot forms for elderly or confused voters at some polling stations during the second round of parliamentary elections. If confirmed as a pattern, the reports could chip away at the credibility of what has so far been the freest and fairest vote in Egypt's modern history.
Under Hosni Mubarak's 30-year regime, elections were systemically rigged, and the corruption was a major impetus behind the popular uprising that ousted the authoritarian leader in February. But as the polls closed Thursday, it was still unclear how widespread the problems were.
Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, head of the election commission, described the allegations as "a strong wave of rumors which aimed at driving a wedge between the judges and the people." He said he investigated some incidents and found that judges overseeing the voting were helping disabled, illiterate voters. He told the judges it was not their roll to help.
"If people lose confidence in their judges, this will lead to a state collapse," he said.
It was difficult to say how widespread any irregularities might be, but more allegations surfaced in this round than in the previous one in November. In the earlier voting, Islamic parties won a substantial percent, far surpassing other parties.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, casting his vote for the first time in his life, at age 68, said that fears of a parliament dominated by Islamists might mean new elections. "This is the first step toward democracy," he said. Commenting on alleged violations, he said: "This is nothing compared to before."
The second round of voting in nine of the country's 27 provinces covered vast rural areas where the two Islamist blocs that dominated the first round look poised to bolster their large majority.
The Islamist alliances - the front-running Muslim Brotherhood and second-place Al-Nour representing ultraconservative Salafi Muslims - won more than half the seats in the first round Nov. 28-29, according to an AP tally compiled from official results.
This round and a third and final vote in January are expected to solidify those gains because they are concentrated in rural areas that are traditionally more conservative.