Egyptians turn up to elect Mubarak successor

Cairo: Millions of Egyptians queued outside polling stations and cast ballots to pick their first post-Mubarak President today, in what marks the culmination of a mass uprising that uprooted an entrenched autocratic ruler and inspired millions across the Arab world.

The two-day exercise kicked off this morning amid tight security and is the final phase of a tumultuous transition overseen by the increasingly unpopular ruling military council. The historic presidential election is being contested by candidates with both Islamist and secularist leanings who have promised radically different futures for the country.

A total of 13 contenders are in the fray but the race boils down to five major names. Two figures of the former regime -former foreign minister Amr Moussa and former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, are up against two Islamists – Mohamad Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Brotherhood-defect Abd-al-Munim Abul Futtuh, and leftist front-runner Hamadin Sabahi.

If no candidate gets an absolute majority, the top two vote-getters would compete in a run-off on June 16 and 17. The winner of the run-off would become Egypt`s first post-Mubarak era president and will take office before July 1.

The elections are being conducted under full judicial supervision and international monitors have arrived to observe the transparency of the process.

People have been queuing up in front of polling stations since 6.00 am, two hours before the poll was expected to open. "I am a sick man but came early to vote because I don`t want my country to be stolen anymore. I don`t want the revolution to be stolen anymore. I trust in these elections because I believe in the people of my country," a voter standing outside the polling station said.

"I trust these elections will be transparent because every citizen is keen on casting his vote. If someone does not vote then he has done his country wrong. People will accept the results," another voter said.

Others said this historic exercise marks an end to autocratic rule once and for all. "The election is a result of the revolution. There is no way one person will monopolise the power again. Tahrir has become a symbol. The entire country is now Tahrir," a voter added.

The polling stations will open for 12 hours today and another 12 hours tomorrow and the results are expected on May 29.

Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri has declared a day off for the government employees during the election. The Cabinet met today to discuss the monitoring of the presidential election.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid has also formed an operations room for the purpose.
"People can call 19303 about any problem," he said.

Ganzouri asked citizens to participate in the election as "their duty" and urged them to accept the decision of the majority. "I hope the election would pass peacefully. And I call on all political forces to accept the result," he said.

Political, revolutionary forces and trade unions have also formed monitoring centres while the Judges for Egypt Movement has deployed 350 judges and 1,500 observers to monitor the process. Also, 9,457 observers from 53 various human rights groups accredited by the Presidential Elections Commission would be present at the polling stations.

The Carter Centre has allowed 22 international observers from 14 countries to observe the campaigning, the voting and the counting. Former US President Jimmy Carter met with Ganzouri yesterday to discuss the democratisation process in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has also formed 300 operation rooms and 30 committees to monitor violations, and is sending 70,000 representatives to the polling stations.

In a surprise move, the Secretary General of the Presidential Elections Commission, Hatem Bagato has said that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his son, Gamal, have the right to vote in the presidential election.

Bagato, speaking to local Al-Masry Al-Youm, said that the commission has not yet received a request from them to take part in the election. He confirmed that the commission is still studying requests from detainees to vote.

Sources at the Interior Ministry`s Prison Department said there are between 7,000 and 10,000 inmates detained in 42 prisons pending investigations that have the right to cast their votes in the presidential election today and tomorrow, provided that they apply for it.

The sources added that former President Mubarak, who is detained in a medical centre, and 44 former regime officials, held in five different prisons, have all not applied to vote.

Egyptian law allows detainees to vote as long as they have not been convicted. It is impossible for thousands of detainees to vote because voting requires polling stations, civil workers and judges to supervise the elections, particularly as prisoners number over 3,000 in different prisons in Cairo and 1,000 in Tora Prison.