Egyptians vote in last day of landmark presidential polls

Arab World Materials 24 May 2012 22:41 (UTC +04:00)

Turnout was low Thursday on the second and last day of Egypt's first free presidential electionç DPA reported.

The election commission extended voting by one hour to 9 pm (1900 GMT) to encourage more people to vote.

"This extension is aimed at making up for the delay in the start of balloting at some stations," said Hatem Begatu, the secretary general of the commission.

After high turnout on Wednesday, civil servants were given the day off to vote.

The turnout picked up in several areas of the country, including in Cairo, during the cooler afternoon hours, said state television.

High numbers of voters were reported in the coastal city of Port Said where military bands played themes to encourage voters.

"I want the new president to make the country better, eliminate poverty and create jobs for the young people," said a veiled woman waiting to vote at a school near Cairo.

A Christian woman, standing in the same line at the women-only polling station, called on the new president to "end discrimination."

Christians, who make up some 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million population, have long complained about alleged discrimination and attacks by militants on places of worship.

The weak showing prompted Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a populist presidential contender excluded from the race last month, to appeal to voters to hurry and cast their ballots.

"Everyone should go to the polls right away lest the former regime come back through its contenders," he said on his Facebook account. "The revival of the former regime may be followed by exacting revenge from the Egyptian people."

Two former officials who served under Hosny Mubarak are running for Egypt's top job.

Mubarak was forced to step down by a popular revolt in February last year.

Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri forecast an unprecedently high turnout. "The people now know that their votes count," state television quoted him as saying.

Al-Ganzouri called on Egyptians to accept the result of the vote, regardless who wins.

Thirteen candidates are competing in the presidential election, Egypt's first since Mubarak's overthrow.

The frontrunners include Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister; Abdul-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a moderate Islamist; Mohamed Morsi, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood's candidate; Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last premier; and Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist opposition politician.

Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi inspected a polling station in Helipolis in eastern Cairo before heading to an operations room at the Defence Ministry to follow up on the election, according to state media.

Around 300,000 personnel from the army and the police have been deployed across Egypt to ensure safety.

However, the state-run newspaper Al Ahram reported that four people were injured in a fight between supporters of rival candidates in Beheira, 130 kilometres north of Cairo.

Meanwhile, a local non-governmental organization said it had reported 143 alleged instances of electoral violations.

The Monitors Without Borders Network said the violations included illegal canvassing, attempts to influence voters, mass voting in women-only polling stations and mistakes on the voters' roll.

The organization said major cities such as Cairo, Giza and Alexandria featured prominently in the cases of alleged irregularities, which were reported to the election commission.

More than 50 million eligible voters were casting their ballots over the two-day polls.

Results are not expected until May 29.

If no candidate secures an outright majority in the first round, there will be a run-off between the top two candidates on June 16 and 17.