A moderate Islamist candidate has denounced Egypt's first round presidential poll as dishonest in the strongest criticism yet of the historic vote.
The electoral committee said it would announce official results later in the day. Unofficial tallies suggest a run-off on June 16 and 17 between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
A committee source, who asked not to be named, said all complaints about last week’s voting had been rejected and “therefore the run-off is between Mursi and Shafiq”.
A Mursi-Shafiq run-off poses a tough dilemma for those among Egypt’s 50-million voters who are equally wary of Islamist rule or a return to military-backed secular autocracy.
“I reject these results and do not recognise them,” said Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member, alleging that votes had been bought and representatives of candidates had been denied access to polling stations during the count.
“The national conscience does not allow for labelling these elections honest,” he added.
Preliminary results put Abol Fotouh in fourth place.
Three other candidates lodged complaints, Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist, who was unofficially put in third place and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who also queried the outcome.
Only Abol Fotouh has so far rejected it outright.
“There are question marks on the result of the election,” Moussa told a separate news conference. “There were violations but this should not change our minds on democracy and the necessity of choosing our president.”
The Muslim Brotherhood sought to muster a coalition to help Mursi against Shafiq, an unashamed admirer of Mubarak, who like his “role model” once commanded the air force.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a run-off is held between the top two. Unofficial results show Mursi and Shafiq each winning about a quarter of the votes.
“Today we announce the results of the first round of the presidential election,” Hatem Bagato, the secretary general of the electoral committee, said.
The close contest has set both contenders scrambling for support, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to draw losing candidates and other political forces into a broad front to prevent a “counter-revolutionary” Shafiq victory.
Shafiq is also seeking wider backing, even posing as a protector of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11 2011.
Shafiq’s supporters see him as the man to impose security and crack down on protests viewed as damaging to the economy. Mursi appeals to Egyptians keen for Islamists to run a deeply religious country within a democratic framework.
Upsurge in violence
I would bet that at some stage in the next two week there will be an upsurge in violence,” said a Western diplomat, predicting than such a flare-up would likely boost the chances of Shafiq, campaigning on a law and order platform.
A Brotherhood source, who asked not to be named, said the Islamist group’s Freedom and Justice Party had prepared a menu of options to tempt rival groups and politicians to its side.
These include creating a five-member advisory council to advise the president; assigning the posts of prime minister or vice-president to Abol Fotouh and Sabahy; distributing Cabinet posts to other parties and offering compromises on planned laws and on an assembly tasked with drafting a new Constitution.
So far Abol Fotouh and Sabahy have appeared wary of such overtures, staying away from meetings called by the Brotherhood to discuss strategy for the second round of an election supposed to crown Egypt’s turbulent army-led transition to democracy.
Moussa, a former foreign minister once seen as favourite to win the presidency but who appears to have managed only fifth place said he would stay in politics but was seeking no post.
“We cannot accept a re-creation of the [Mubarak] regime,” he declared, but said he had not yet spoken with the Brotherhood on any anti-Shafiq coalition. “I am not going to consult them, but if they want to consult me, I will consider it.”
The polarised election result has dismayed many Egyptians who were delighted at Mubarak’s downfall but who are grappling with difficult choices about how to achieve their aspirations.
Many voters who chose middle-ground candidates are now at a loss – and may opt not to cast ballots in the run-off. – Reuters