Egypt: Lower turnout for 2nd day of voting

May 24, 2012 at 12:38 PM
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CAIRO, May 24 (UPI) -- An official said voter turnout seemed lower on the second day of Egypt's presidential elections Thursday, amid isolated incidents and allegations of bribery.

"The main problem I've found here, I haven't seen any systematic violations, I've seen a lot of women who walk in having no clue who they are going to vote for," a judge at a polling station in Old Cairo told the Egypt Independent. "My only concern is whether or not the majority of the votes are going to be informed votes."

Voters waited in long lines outside polling stations, as they did Wednesday, in Egypt's first democratic presidential process, capping 16 months of turbulence since a popular uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Clashes broke out between supporters of former Air Force Cmdr. Ahmed Shafiq and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in Zagazig Thursday afternoon. Morsi supporters reportedly began campaigning outside a school, which led to a verbal altercation between the two groups, which then escalated into a battle with swords and sticks.

A supporter of independent candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh alleged he sustained a head injury and a broken jaw after being beaten by a campaigner for Morsi.

Despite incidents, voters remained optimistic about the country's historic election.

"It is like honey to my heart," Mohamed Mustafa Seif, 36, told The New York Times. "For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a role to play. My vote could possibly make a difference."

Security was tight Wednesday and Thursday, with armed soldiers, military police, Egyptian National Police and regular police patrolling the streets while judges oversaw polling stations.

Monitors, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, were on hand to ensure the process was free and fair.

Throughout Wednesday and Thursday, there were allegations of widespread bribery. Voters were observed accepting gifts of cash and food from campaigns tied Shafiq and Morsi, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

A boycott on the election continued in two villages in Assuit in protest of bread and butane shortages. Some residents held banners that read, "We are boycotting the election for a better life."

The top presidential contenders are two Islamists and two officials from the Mubarak era.

Morsi battled liberal Islamist Fotouh for the Islamist vote, while Shafiq challenged former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa for secular support.

A dark-horse bid by nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi was expected to do well among liberals and leftists, the Los Angeles Times said.

Polling stations were to remain open at least an extra hour into the evening, as they had done Wednesday.

Thousands of observers from several parties spent the night at the polling stations with the sealed ballot boxes, to ensure no overnight vote tampering, campaign officials said.

Official results are expected Sunday.

If no clear winner emerges from among the candidates, a runoff vote will be held June 16-17.

"I cannot believe we have come this far," publisher Hisham Kassem told The Guardian. "This was unthinkable 18 months ago."

"I just want a president," Ines Mohamed, 40, told The New York Times. "I want this to end well, to stop all the chaos, to end the bleeding of corruption."

Egypt's military, which has ruled the country since Mubarak's ouster Feb. 11, 2011, has pledged to hand over power to civilian rule by the end of June.

Many voters told news organizations they believed the military would continue jockeying for influence behind the scenes.

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