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Egyptians widely divided over upcoming constitutional referendum

CAIRO, March 18 (Xinhua) — Egyptians will go to the polls on Saturday to decide the fate of the constitutional amendments, which will pave the way for the country’s transition period after the end of the 30-year rule of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptians, with some 40 million eligible voters, or half of the country’s population, have been widely divided as to say yes or no to the crucial referendum.

Two days after Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution. A committee was then appointed by the supreme council to amend some of the articles of the constitution in ten days.

According to the amendments, the presidential term will be shortened to four years from six years, and there will be a two- term cap on the president who should appoint one or more vice presidents within 60 days of taking office.

The changes also eased the restrictions on the qualifications of presidential candidates and said elections should be carried out under judicial monitoring.

Mohamed Abd el Aziz, a 25-year-old marketing employee with the Olympic Group Company in Cairo, said he would cast a no vote in the referendum, firstly because many articles remained unchanged with the president still enjoying great power.

“The president now has a maximum of two terms of office, it is good, but there are articles which give the president great power, we don’t want this for sure,” he said.

Rabab, a 21-year-old student agreed with Aziz, saying “I will definitely say no,” and noting “the constitution should all be cancelled and rewritten from the start in accordance with the will of the people.” The girl is qualified to vote as anyone 18 years old or above can vote with national IDs.

Meanwhile, some citizens expressed support for the amendments.

“The referendum is a good step forward,” said Mohamed Ebeid, a clerk at a gas station in downtown Cairo. “Many things that we are dreaming of have happened. We have to make a new constitution, but for the time being we cannot, because there is chaos in the country.”

“We have to say yes, at least for this period. We can’t change all overnight. We have to say yes to curb corruption and move foreword for the Egyptian economy to start recovery,” said the worker.

Ayman Ahmed El Sayed, 25, a taxi driver, also supported the referendum, saying “it is good, because we haven’t something like this before at all, and now we have judicial supervision and there will be integrity in the amendments of the constitution.”

However, many citizens seem to know little about the amendments, and cannot decided whether to vote for or against it.

As the army urged the people to vote, many political parties and youth groups rejected the amendments and called for a new constitution. The Wafd Party, the National Coalition for Change led by former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohammed ElBaradei, and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, also a possible presidential candidate, and the Coalition of Youth, all said they would vote against the amendments.

The opposition groups have also called for the presidential elections to come first.

The constitutional referendum is expected to pave the way for the parliamentary elections slated for June and presidential elections six weeks later, according to the army’s plan.

The army has vowed to transfer power to civilian government in six months or after the polls, but the uncertain fate of the constitutional referendum may affect the schedule.

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