Egypt’s rulers claim success after heavy turnout for free vote

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Egypt’s military rulers claimed victory yesterday after a surprisingly heavy turnout for the first elections since Hosni Mubarak’s removal.

The long queues at polling stations for a second day boosted the military council after protests that erupted on November 19 in Cairo and other cities, denouncing the ruling generals and demanding they transfer power immediately to a civilian authority. At times, the protests drew more than 100,000 and a crackdown by security forces killed more than 40 people over nine days.

Maj. Gen Mukhtar al-Mulla, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said the vote for a parliament “responds to all those who were sceptical that elections will take place on time”. He called the turnout “unprecedented in the history of the Arab world’s parliamentary life”.

The head of the election commission, Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim, proclaimed that the turnout so far had been “massive and unexpected”. But he did not give figures.

Despite the turmoil leading up to the vote, Egyptians poured out to participate, eager to cast ballots in the country’s first free and fair elections in living memory. The voting was still going strong yesterday – the second and final day of the first round of the elections.

The size of the crowds suggested Egyptians were more concerned with exercising their vote and shaping the new parliament than with the protesters’ warnings that elections have little legitimacy under the domination of the armed forces, which took power after Mr Mubarak’s fall on February 11. The generals had sought to isolate the protesters by insisting they did not represent the broader public.

The protests in recent days forced the council to move up its timetable for surrendering power to a civilian government to late June, rather than late 2012 or early 2103. Many fear the generals will continue to dominate the government even after the handover.

The huge turnout on Monday meant some voters waited for seven hours or more. Past elections had been heavily rigged and turnout was low, sometimes in the single digits at times.

This time around, some hoped their votes would help to push the armed forces from power. Backers of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic groups like the ultraconservative Salafis turned out in heavy numbers, while others said their main goal in voting was to try to keep the Islamists in check.

Many in the country are frustrated with how the military rulers have been handling the transition over the past 10 months. Some say the military rulers are no different from the old regime, still rounding up thousands and putting them on trial in military courts trying to cling to power.