Second day of voting in Egypt to pick Mubarak successor

Egyptians voted for a second day on Sunday in a presidential runoff pitting Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister against a conservative Islamist, with a sense of gloom hanging over many at the polls over the choice and the prospect that the ruling military will still hold most power even after their nominal handover of authority to civilians by July 1.

In a sign of how much power they wield, the military generals were preparing to define the next president’s authorities in an interim constitutional declaration that state media said could come by Monday.

Under the declaration, the council of generals would be the nation’s legislators and control the budget after the Islamist-dominated parliament was dissolved under a court order last week.

The generals will also likely take on the Parliament’s task of appointing a 100-member assembly to write the permanent Constitution, giving them enormous influence over the document that will shape Egypt’s future and allowing the opportunity to enshrine for themselves a political say.

As a result, for some voters even as they stood in sweltering heat at the polls, it seemed that the choice for Mubarak’s successor – between Ahmed Shafiq, a longtime friend and admirer of Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood – would ultimately make little difference.

“I don’t trust the whole thing. I feel everything is planned in advance and what we are doing now is just part of the plan,” Asmaa Fadil, a young woman who wears the Muslim veil, said at a polling station in the Cairo district of Sayeda Zeinab.

She said she had lost confidence in the political process, particularly after the dissolution of Parliament. After the first day of voting ended Saturday, the Brotherhood sought to rally the public behind it, saying that a Morsi win for the presidency was now the only hope for the revolution after the military’s consolidation of power.

In a statement issued late on Saturday after a meeting of its top leaders, the Brotherhood denounced Thursday’s court ruling dissolving Parliament, saying it “amounted to a coup against the entire democratic process parliament and take us back to square one”.

The fundamentalist group led the now-dissolved parliament with just under half its seats. It also criticised new powers that were given to military police and intelligence last week to arrest civilians for a host of crimes – as minor as blocking traffic.

The powers will “recreate the climate of terror and oppression and crush the people’s hope for change.” Shafiq, who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister, is a former air force commander and a veteran of Mubarak’s governments, so he is closely tied to both the military and the old regime system.

If he wins, that would likely mean a smooth relationship with the generals. His critics fear it will mean more than that – the outright continuation of the Mubarak-style, military-backed autocracy that last year’s revolt sought to uproot. Morsi – and the Muslim Brotherhood – would likely have far rockier relationship with the generals and a Morsi win could bring a tussle over spheres of power.

However, the Brotherhood has reached accommodations with the generals previously since Mubarak’s fall on February 11 2011, just as it struck deals in the past with Mubarak’s regime itself. The winner in the race will be officially announced Thursday.

But the result could be known by as early as Monday morning, based on results from individual counting stations that Egyptian media and each campaign usually compile and make public. Turnout from the two-day balloting, which ends Sunday evening, could be a significant measure.

If significantly lower than the 46% in last month’s first round of the presidential election, it would be a sign of widespread discontent with the choice and doubts over the vote’s legitimacy.

There were no figures yet from the current voting. The race between Shafiq and Morsi has deeply polarized the country. Each has a core of diehard supporters. Each won about a quarter of the vote in the presidential election’s first round last month in which 13 candidates were running.

But among their critics, each – or both – inspire a powerful enmity. The anti-Shafiq camp sees his very candidacy as an insult to the 18-day wave of unprecedented protests last year that ousted Mubarak.

The anti-Morsi camp is convinced he will hand the country over to the Brotherhood to turn it into an Islamic state or that the group is just as authoritarian as Mubarak was. 

“I am bitter and I am filled with regret that I have to choose between two people I hate. I have to pick a bad candidate only to avoid the worse of the two,” lamented a silver-haired pensioner in Cairo’s crowded Bab el-Shariyah district.

He refused to give his name, fearing retribution for speaking so openly. “Nothing is going to be resolved and Egypt will not see stability,” he added.

A similarly pessimistic note was echoed by another voter, accountant Yasser Gad (45).

“The country is heading to a disaster. It will keep boiling until it explodes. No one in the country wants the former regime to rule us again.”

Few voters displayed an air of celebration visible in previous post-Mubarak elections. The prevailing mood was one of deep anxiety over the future – tinged with bitterness that their “revolution” had stalled, fears that no matter who wins, street protests will erupt again, or deep suspicion that the political system was being manipulated.

Moreover, there was a sense of voting fatigue. Egyptians have gone to the polls multiple times since Mubarak’s fall on February 11 2011 – a referendum early last year, then three months of multi-round parliamentary elections that began in November, and the first round of presidential elections last month.

“It’s a farce. I crossed out the names of the two candidates on my ballot paper and wrote ‘the revolution continues’,” said architect Ahmed Saad el-Deen, in Cairo’s Sayedah Zeinab district, a middle-class area that is home to the shrine of a revered Muslim saint.

“I can’t vote for the one who killed my brother or the second one who danced on his dead body,” he said, alluding to Shafiq’s alleged role in the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising and claims by revolutionaries that Morsi’s Brotherhood rode the uprising to realise its own political goals. – Sapa-AP

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