No clear winner emerges in first day of Egyptian poll

Thu, May 24, 2012, 01:00

MILLIONS OF Egyptians went to the polls yesterday to choose a president in a historic election intended to end army rule and usher in a new democratic era more than a year after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

Queues formed in front of voting stations and a brisk flow of voters cast their ballots, although turnout in the first of two days of the election appeared lower than in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary poll held late last year.

The vote comes after a feverish election campaign during which five candidates emerged as the leading contenders.

But in both urban and rural areas yesterday there seemed to be no reliable pattern pointing to an outright winner.

This is the first time that Egyptians will be able to choose their leader. If there is no clear winner from among the 12 candidates, there will be a run-off vote on June 16th and 17th.

In Sayida Zaineb, a working class district of Cairo, housewife Fatima Saieed (64) said she had voted for Amr Moussa, the former Mubarak-era foreign minister who has been a leading secular candidate in opinion polls.

“He has been a seasoned politician for a long time and he will make our country stand up on its feet again,” she said.

“I voted for the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections but they want to tailor a constitution to their own size.

“They want the government and the presidency, they want everything. We have tried them but they have not worked out.”

Although many voters said they supported Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood candidate, Ms Saieed’s complaints about the organisation, which controls almost half of the seats in parliament, were echoed by others who said their hopes had been dashed by their performance in the assembly.

Some also said they had voted for the once-banned and persecuted Islamist organisation before, but were now shunning it over fears that it wanted to control parliament, the presidency and the country’s stalled constitution-writing process.

The name of Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-wing candidate who has enjoyed a last-minute surge in support, cropped up repeatedly among voters, with many saying they had cast their ballots for him because “he is one of us”, echoing his campaign slogan.

“My whole family is agreed on Hamdeen,” said Fatma Abdel Aal, a housewife from Barageel, a village just outside Cairo.

“We are optimistic. We feel he is one of us. I think the Brotherhood may be too strict. We voted for them in the parliamentary election but they did nothing.”

The fragmentation of the vote was also evident in rural areas of the Nile Delta, a region that is usually seen as an Islamist stronghold.

Outside a polling station in the town of Shahid Fekry, residents said many were backing Ahmed Shafiq, a former military man who served as Mr Mubarak’s last prime minister.

“He is strong,” said labourer Moneim Abdul Azzim (40).

“He represents peace and stability.”

In a deeply divided political landscape, with the election pitting powerful Islamists against each other and against influential figures linked to the former regime, there had been fears that the vote could be marred by fraud.

The campaign of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member, submitted an official complaint against Mr Shafiq, alleging that he held a press conference and gave a television interview on election day in breach of the rules.

Thousands of local observers and a few hundred foreigners were deployed to oversee the ballot. Initial reports suggested there had been some irregularities but that they appeared to be minor.