Ahmed Ali, Associated Press
CAIRO — Partial results from a third of Egypt's provinces Sunday showed massive turnout and a vote overwhelmingly in favor of constitutional changes that eliminate restrictions on political rights and civil liberties.
The count from most of the country, including Cairo, was still to be released.
But according to results issued by judges at their respective polling centers, 11 of 29 provinces showed 65 to 90 percent of voters saying "yes" to the changes, which would allow parliament and presidential vote no later than September.
Opponents feared the referendum's passage would allow the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood to dominate Egypt's dozens of new political parties in the presidential and parliamentary vote.
The partial, preliminary results also showed 70 percent turnout at many polling centers, a massive showing after decades of political apathy in response to repression.
Millions of Egyptians voted freely on Saturday for the first time in more than half a century, joyfully waiting for hours to cast their ballots on the package of constitutional changes.
Young people traded mobile-phone pictures of ink-stained fingers that showed they voted. Others called relatives to boast of casting the first vote of their lives. In the well-off Cairo neighborhood of Maadi, a man hoisted his elderly, infirm father on his shoulder and carried him to a polling station.
The first test of Egypt's transition to democracy offered ominous hints of widening sectarian division, however.
Many were drawn to the polls in a massive, last-minute effort by the Muslim Brotherhood after the widely despised National Democratic Party of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted last month in a national popular uprising.
Critics say that would allow the Brotherhood and NDP to easily outpoll the dozens of political groups born out of the anti-Mubarak uprising, dividing power between former regime loyalists and supporters of a fundamentalist state — a nightmare scenario for both Western powers and many inside Egypt.
Among those most fearful of the Brotherhood's rising power are Egypt's estimated 8 million Coptic Christians, whose leaders rallied the faithful to vote "no."
The NDP is blamed for the rampant corruption and the fraud that marred every election during Mubarak's 29-year rule, and its members have been accused of attempting to disrupt Egypt's transition to democracy for fear of losing further power.
The constitutional amendments were drawn up by a panel of military-appointed legal scholars and intended to bring just enough change to the current constitution — which was adopted in 1971 and suspended by the military after it came to power — to ensure that upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections are free and fair.
In an interview with daily El-Shorouk, a top member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said that the council will issue 'a constitutional declaration' just after the announcement of the final vote to lay down next steps.
He said that if the results were in favor of Yes, then a timetable will be set for parliament and presidential elections. If the majority voted No, the armed forces might remain in power for up to two years.
Voters were asked to choose 'yes' or 'no' for the whole package of nine changes, which would also impose presidential term limits and curtail 30-year-old emergency laws that give police near-unlimited powers.
Of the 10 provinces, 90 percent of the voters in Fayoum were in favor of the constitutional changes, while 60 percent of el-Wadi el-Gedid voted No.
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