Egypt votes to usher in democracy after revolution

Cairo: Riven by political differences and violence, Egyptians today began voting in a historic three stage parliamentary elections to usher in democracy in the Arab world`s most populous nation, nine-months after a popular uprising toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

The elections, clouded by violence, demonstration and confrontation between the ruling military and pro-democracy protesters, will be the first step in a transfer to civilian rule, promised by the ruling army council that replaced Mubarak in February.

Initially, 27 provinces will go to the polls in three separate stages in a long procedure until January to elect the 508-member People`s Assembly or lower house of the parliament.

Today and tomorrow, ballots will be cast in the main cities of Cairo and Alexandria, as well as Fayyum, Luxor, Port Said, Damietta, Kafr el-Sheikh and the Red Sea province. A run-off is scheduled for December 5. Over 50 political parties, along with thousands of independent candidates are running in the elections.

The second stage will be held on December 14 in Giza, Beni Sueif, Menufia, Sharqiya, Beheira, Suez, Ismailiya, Sohag and Aswan, with a run-off scheduled for December 21.

The third and final round will take place on January 3 in Minya, Qaliubiya, Gharbia, Daqahliya, North Sinai, South Sinai, New Valley, Matruh and Qena. The last run-off will be held on January 10.
The final results are expected on January 13.

Voters have been asked to elect 498 members of the lower house of parliament, while 10 others will be appointed by interim military leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The voters would again cast their ballots on January 29 to elect the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.

The new parliament will choose a 100-member committee to draft a new constitution for the country as per the SCAF`s (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) plan.

Elections are being held through a mixed system – the individual candidate system and the closed party list system. The ballot paper asks each voter to pass three votes: two for individual candidates split into professional and farmer/worker categories and one for a political grouping. Many people have complained of the complexity of the system and the division of constituencies.

Just ahead of polls, thousands of protesters occupied Cairo`s iconic Tahrir Square, the hub of the uprising that unseated Mubarak, demanding that the military council that replaced him hand power to a civilian government.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi warned them that no one will be allowed to pressurise the Army.

The protesters rejected the appointment of new 78-year- old caretaker Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. They vowed to stay in the square until the SCAF turns over authority to a National Salvation Government led by Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

Clashes renewed on November 19 between security and protestors close to Tahrir and left around 40 dead and thousands others injured. Since then protestors have been calling on the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to step down and hand over the country to a civil government.

The newly founded parties have formed coalitions to run in the elections. The Democratic Alliance includes Islamic and non-Islamic parties, but is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood`s Freedom and Justice Party. Observers expect the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist movement, to emerge as the largest party, but without an overall majority.