Voting concludes in landmark Egyptian presidential election

In a wide-open race that will define the nation's future political course, Egyptian »»

In a wide-open race that will define the nation's future political course, Egyptian voted Thursday on the second day of a landmark presidential election that will produce a successor to longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The landmark election, considered the freest and fairest in Egypt's history, is wide open. The reliability of polls is uncertain, and of the 13 candidates have bounced around the top spots, although none of them has emerged as a clear front-runner.

The two leading secular contenders are both veterans of Mubarak's regime -- former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. The main Islamist candidates are Mohammed Mursi of the powerful and well-organized Muslim Brotherhood, and Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a moderate Islamist whose inclusive platform has won him the support of some liberals, leftists and minority Christians.  Voters lined up outside some polling centers, but the morning turnout was generally weaker than the previous day's, when long lines formed outside polling centers more than an hour before they opened. The government has given employees Thursday off to bolster the turnout.

The two-day vote marked the end of decades of authoritarian rule, although concerns remained that the nation's military rulers who took over after Mubarak would try to retain influence. Egyptians were hopeful as they waited patiently for their chance to cast a ballot in the Arab world's first competitive presidential election.

"The revolution has won us the right to freely elect our president," said housewife Doaa Nasr, referring to the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's 29-year regime 15 months ago.

"No one can now take this right away from us," she said as she waited in line to vote in Cairo's Zeitoun district.

There are 13 candidates in the race, including Islamists, liberals and former regime figures. No one is expected to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round Wednesday and Thursday, setting the stage for a run-off June 16-17 between the top two finishers. A winner will be announced June 21.

The generals who took control after Mubarak was ousted have promised to hand over power by July 1, repeatedly assuring critics that they have no wish to remain in charge. There are fears, however, that they could retain significant powers on matters of national security and key foreign policies.



Columnist: AP