Egypt to hold reform referendum on 19 March

Egypt will hold a referendum on reforms to its constitution on 19 March, the government said on its Facebook page on Friday, quoting the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

"The referendum on the proposed amendments to the constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt will take place on March 19, 2011," a statement on the Facebook page said.

Polling stations would be open to the public from 8 am to 7 pm, it said.

Egypt's ruling military council, which has been governing the country since mass protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, has suspended the constitution and asked a committee of legal experts to propose changes to ensure fair elections and pave a road towards a democratic civil state.

The proposed amendments will reduce the length of a presidential term to four from six years and cap the number of terms any leader can serve in the post at two. Mubarak was in his fifth, six-year term when he was forced from office.

The amendments will also guarantee judicial supervision of the election process — another major demand of reformists' groups who said the old system allowed major vote rigging.

The constitutional amendments were unveiled last Saturday by a 10-man judicial committee appointed by the ruling military council.

The proposed amendments have not faced major criticism, though many Egyptians believe the country is in need of an entirely new constitution — something the judicial committee said would be drawn up after elections.

State radio reported on Thursday that all Egyptians over the age of 18 would be allowed to vote with their national IDs — a change from the previous system that required a special voting card that was hard to acquire.

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