Historic 62 percent turnout in Egypt elections

There are only three official winners so far in Egypt's elections as many districts ready for runoffs.

Supporters of Egyptian candidate for the parliamentary elections Mustafa Bakri, center, surround his car as they celebrate after he was able to win a seat in the first round in South Cairo's Helwan district Thursday.

Egypt's first post-Mubarak election has produced few clear winners in the initial round, with a historic 62 percent of voters turning out to choose among more than 100 candidates in some districts.

The official election results announced in Egypt today show that only three individual candidates won outright. The rest of the the individual races will be decided in runoff races next week. The eventual winners in the individual races, conducted in three geographically-staggered rounds, will make up one-third of the new lower house of parliament.

Results for the list-based proportional system that will fill the rest of the body will not be announced until all three rounds have concluded in January. But it is already clear from unofficial results that ultraconservative Muslim parties may have taken as much as 30 percent of the vote – a surprising victory – while the more well-established Muslim Brotherhood is on track to win about 40 percent of the seats. 

Based on party estimates, it appears that Islamists will play a prominent role in steering Egypt’s post-revolution future, including writing its new constitution – if the parliament has much of a say. Egypt’s military rulers have said they will not give up control until a new president is elected in the first half of next year.

Historic turnout

The head of Egypt’s High Elections Commission Abdel Moaz Ibrahim termed turnout among eligible voters in the first round, which took place in nine of Egypt’s 27 governorates, "historic.".

That is the highest turnout ever recorded in Egypt, but it is lower than the more than 90 percent in Tunisia's recent elections. It is also lower than the 75 percent turnout that Iraqis managed in 2005 amid widespread violence.

Egypt's election came just a week after more than 40 people died in sustained clashes between security forces and protesters demanding Egypt’s military rulers hand over power to a civilian government.

'Astonishing rise of the salafists'

The strong performance of the Muslim Brotherhood came as little surprise. What many did not expect was the “astonishing rise of the salafists,” as Ehab El Kharrat, a leader of the secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party, puts it. Salafis, who follow an austere strain of Islam and are new to Egypt’s political scene, would like to regulate Egyptian society according to Islamic law.

The Brotherhood and salafist parties are likely to increase their percentage of the votes after the runoffs next week, in which many of their candidates are competing, and are likely to beat out many of the liberal and secular candidates who advanced.

If the next rounds follow the same trend, Islamists will likely hold a majority of the parliament – a prospect that has caused alarm among some Egyptian liberals and Christians. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party released a statement attempting to calm some of those fears today, saying it would not form an alliance with the salafi Al Nour party.

20 percent for secular alliance

The secular Egyptian Bloc alliance, which includes three parties, says it has received about 20 percent of the vote so far, which Kharrat says was within expectations. He points out that the majority of the next parliament will have a steep task ahead in meeting extraordinarily high public expectations.

“The Islamists will have the majority,” he says. “I hope they don't get the two-thirds majority. But there is some benefit in the long run for us, the Social Democrats, the liberals, and the leftists, because in the revolutionary mood of the Egyptian street, the party that will have the majority in the parliament will not have an easy ride. They will be bombarded by criticism and already it's started.”

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