Millions of Egyptians have lined up at polling stations across the country to freely choose their first president since last year’s removal of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Thirteen candidates, who include Islamists, liberals and Mubarak regime figures, are contesting the election. No outright winner is expected to emerge from the two-day vote so a run-off between the two top finishers will be held on June 16 and 17. The winner will be announced on June 21.
For most of his 29-year rule, Mubarak – like his predecessors – ran unopposed in yes-or-no referendums.
Rampant fraud guaranteed ruling party victories. Even in 2005, when Mubarak let challengers oppose him, he ended up not only trouncing his liberal rival but jailing him.
Egypt’s next president will be the nation’s fifth since the monarchy was toppled following a 1952 coup that ushered in six decades of de facto military rule.
The generals who took over from Mubarak after an 18-day uprising forced him to step down 15 months ago have promised to hand over power by July 1, ending a turbulent transitional period defined by deadly street clashes, a faltering economy, a dramatic surge of crime and human rights abuses.
The military leaders have said they have no preferred candidate, bu are widely thought to be favouring Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister who has steadily gained in opinion polls over the past week.
The election comes less than two weeks before Mubarak, 84, is due to be sentenced after he was tried on charges of complicity in the killing of 900 protesters during the uprising. He also faced corruption charges with his two sons, one-time heir apparent Gamal and tycoon Alaa.