Egypt election turnout 62%, protesters honor dead

Turnout highest "since the pharaohs," jokes head of election c'tee; Jimmy Carter praises vote, cites some problems.

Egyptian election workers count ballots 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Egyptian election workers count ballots 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
CAIRO - Turnout in the first leg of Egypt's first free election in six decades was an unprecedented 62 percent, the head of the election committee said on Friday, far higher than in the rigged polls under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
Abdul Moez Ibrahim acknowledged a number of violations in the balloting on Monday and Tuesday, notably campaigning outside polling stations, but said these did not affect the results.
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Ibrahim joked that the turnout was the highest in any Egyptian election "since the pharaohs." It was even greater than in the "forgeries of the past elections", he added.
"The blood of martyrs has watered the tree of freedom, social justice and the rule of law. We are now reaping its first fruits," Ibrahim said in tribute to more than 850 people killed in a popular revolt that toppled Mubarak in February.
Protesters were out again in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to mourn the deaths of 42 people killed last month in demonstrations demanding the generals who took over from Mubarak hand over to civilian rule immediately.
"Without Tahrir, we wouldn't have had these elections," said Mohamed Gad in the square that cradled the revolt. "God willing, the elections will succeed and the revolution will triumph."
But many of the young people who took to the streets early this year now fear their revolution risks being stolen, either by the army rulers or by well-organized Islamist parties.
Ibrahim announced the results of only a handful of clear-cut victories for individual candidates, with most going to run-offs next week, and gave no figures for party lists in the polls, in which Islamist parties are expected to come out on top.
He said four individual candidates, two of them from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), won more than 50 percent of votes to gain outright victory out of 56 seats contested. The rest will require a run-off.
In Egypt's complex election process, staggered over three phases in six weeks, two-thirds of the 498 seats up for grabs are allocated proportionately to party lists, with the rest going to individual candidates.
The Muslim Brotherhood, banned but semi-tolerated under Mubarak, says its FJP expects to win 43 percent of party list votes in the first stage, building on the Islamist group's decades of grassroots social and religious work.
But the Brotherhood's website also forecast that the Salafi al-Nour party would gain 30 percent of the vote, a shock for some Egyptians, especially minority Christian Copts, who fear it will try to impose strict Islamic codes on society.
Nour said on Thursday it expected 20 percent of the vote.
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Former US President Jimmy Carter said staff of his Carter Center, which monitors polls around the world, had seen "enthusiastic participation ... and a largely peaceful process", but called for more steps to ensure integrity and transparency.
Ibrahim, the top election official, said: "There have been some negative observations ... in the election, but none of them affect the integrity and the fairness of the election."
He listed violations including campaigning outside polling stations, long queues, late arrival of ballot papers and a few of the supervising judges, and failure to stamp some ballots.