CAIRO – President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party has captured nearly all the parliament seats that were decided in a first round of voting, according to results announced Tuesday from elections that Egypt's opposition has decried as riddled with violations.
Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, dismissed the results, which accounted for 43 percent of parliament's 508 seats. The rest will be decided in runoffs on Dec. 5, but the fundamentalist Brotherhood expects to be almost entirely swept out of parliament by what it said was rampant rigging, intimidation and vote-buying — allegations echoed by rights groups.
That would be a huge blow to the most powerful opposition force, which shocked the ruling National Democratic Party in the last election in 2005 by winning 88 seats, or a fifth of parliament. A sustained government crackdown has since weakened the group, which is outlawed but fields candidates as independents.
Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie said Mubarak's government had broken its promise to hold clean elections, but vowed his group would not resort to violence.
"We will not allow anyone to tempt us into breaking the law," he told a news conference. "The crimes committed by the regime clearly reflect its weakness and confusion. ... Whatever is built on falsehood is false," he added. "The election is invalid."
Results announced Tuesday showed the ruling party has so far secured 209 seats. Opposition parties won five seats and independents seven — none of them for the Brotherhood. The group has 27 members who will stand in the weekend runoffs for those contests where no candidate won more than 50 percent of votes.
Sunday's vote has been closely watched for any indications on the political direction of Egypt ahead of a more crucial presidential election in 2011. Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years and is now 82, underwent surgery earlier this year to remove a gallbladder. Many believe he is positioning his son, Gamal, to succeed him, but there is widespread public opposition to "inheritance" of power.
The ferocity of the crackdown on the Brotherhood could indicate a concern among authorities that uncertainty over Mubarak's continued grip on power could open the way for escalating dissent in a country with widespread poverty and increasingly vocal protests over food prices, unemployment and other economic hardships. Opponents say the ruling party aimed to sweep parliament to ensure it does not become a platform for dissent.
The Obama administration said Monday it was dismayed by reports of election-day interference and intimidation by security forces — irregularities that call into question the fairness and transparency of the process. Egypt is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday that ultimately it was up to the Egyptian government to satisfy its people's desire for broader participation in the political process.
"We will, as part of our ongoing dialogue with Egypt, continue, where we feel appropriate, to express our concerns about these kinds of developments," Crowley said.
Egypt's High Election Commission acknowledged a few isolated cases of fraud and violence but denied they undermined the integrity of the election. Spokesman Sameh el-Kashef told reporters Tuesday that 1.4 percent of nearly 90,000 ballot boxes were discarded due to tampering.
"While the commission deeply regrets these violations, it is satisfied and reassured that these violations didn't impact the integrity and fairness of the results of the first round of elections," he said.
The commission said turnout was 35 percent, considerably higher than the figure of no more than 15 percent given by most observers and rights groups.
Though it considers the election to be rigged, the Brotherhood maintains it is better to have a presence within parliament to expose Egypt's electoral and political problems.
In the run-up to the Nov. 28 election, at least 1,400 Brotherhood supporters were arrested.
The group, founded in 1928, has been outlawed for more than 50 years, but its network of social services and participation in elections as independents has been largely tolerated by the government.
Other opposition parties leveled similar charges against the government of violating promises to hold free and fair elections.
Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS that 1,400 Brotherhood supporters were arrested before the vote).)