Yahoo! News - Mubarak orders direct presidential elections in Egypt
CAIRO (AFP) - President Hosni Mubarak said he had told parliament to amend Egypt’s constitution to allow direct presidential elections in which anyone can stand and all citizens can vote by secret ballot.
The announcement, welcomed by the opposition as a first step, comes amid US pressure on Egypt to accelerate democratic reform and follows months of unprecedented protests in which demonstrators have denounced the likelihood of Mubarak being elected to a fifth six-year term.
In a televised speech, Mubarak hailed what he called an historic move signalling a new era of political reform. He said he had asked the constitution to be amended before May in time for the next presidential election.
“I took this initiative to open a new era of reform,” said the 76-year-old Mubarak who has ruled Egypt since his predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
Under the current system, parliament elects a single candidate for the presidency by a two-thirds majority, whose name is then put to a referendum.
The move would “for the first time in Egyptian history, allow everyone who is able and willing to serve the fatherland ... to present their candidacy for direct election as president of the republic.”
Both the lower and upper houses of parliament will convene extraordinary sessions to study Mubarak’s demand, an official said.