Light Turnout in 1st Day of Egypt’s Presidential Vote

Posted June 16th, 2012 at 10:30 am (UTC-5)
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Egyptians have begun casting ballots in a two-day presidential run-off that pits a prime minister from former president Hosni Mubarak's era against a Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

Ahmed Shafiq, the former prime minister, is vying with the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi to become Egypt's first president since the huge outpouring of anti-government protests that forced Mubarak's to resign last year.

The VOA Middle East correspondent visited polling stations in the capital Saturday and said the turnout was much lighter than it was in last month's first-round voting. Shafiq and Morsi were the top two finishers in that race, against numerous other presidential hopefuls.

Correspondent Elizabeth Arrott says it is unclear whether a lower turnout indicates that voters are disillusioned with the choice before them.

The election went ahead as scheduled despite a week of intense political turmoil in Egypt, triggered by a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that overturned a legal effort to strike Shafiq from the ballot since he held a senior post under Mubarak.

The justices – holdovers from the Mubarak era themselves – also cited legal problems with the last round of parliamentary elections and dissolved the current Islamist-led parliament. That returned effective control of the country to the interim military administration that took over following Mubarak's ouster.

Some leading Islamists contend the court ruling justified what amounts to a defacto coup by the ruling military council. But the council said the presidential runoff would go ahead as planned.

Speaking to his supporters in Cairo Thursday, Mr. Shafiq called the court ruling “historic” and urged all Egyptians to take part in the polls. The Muslim Brotherhood said the court's decision indicated that Egypt is heading into “very difficult days, that might be more dangerous than the last days of Mubarak's rule.”

Protesters angered by the court ruling took to the streets in Cairo and Alexandria Friday. Thousands marched to Cairo's Tahrir Square, directing their wrath at Mr. Shafiq, suspicious the former prime minister remains part of a larger plot.