CAIRO – Concluding a marathon race towards democracy, Egyptians began voting on Wednesday in the nation's first genuine presidential election since the 2011 uprising that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak.
"Of course I will vote. I want change," Wael Azmy, an accountant, who has taken Wednesday off work to give him time to join the queues he expects to form outside polling stations, told Reuters on Wednesday, May 23.
“We can't stay in this messy situation for the rest of our lives.”
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0700 BST), television reported. They will close at 8 p.m. (1900 BST).
This time Egypt's 50 million eligible voters are expected to turn out in force to determine who will lead the country after the generals who have overseen a transition marred by violence, protests and political deadlock formally hand over by July 1st.
The election caps a rollercoaster transition, marked by political upheaval and bloodshed but which also witnessed democratic parliamentary elections that saw Islamist parties score a crushing victory.
Thirteen candidates are vying in the vote, including Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh and former premier Ahmed Shafiq.
Opinion polls, a largely untested exercise in Egypt, have varied widely but suggest the front-runners are two Islamists, Mursi and Abul-Futuh, and two Mubarak-era figures, Moussa and Shafiq.
Leftist Hamdeen Sabahy is a dark horse in the race with a growing following among young revolutionaries and workers.
Mubarak, 84 and ailing, may watch the election from a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo as he awaits the verdict of his murder trial on June 2.
The former strongman is accused of involvement in the killing of some 850 protesters during the uprising and of corruption.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), in power since Mubarak’s ouster, repeated its earlier calls for Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls.
“Rise, Egyptian; Egypt is calling you,” the soldier shouted through a loudspeaker, as an army vehicle rumbled through Tahrir Square – the epicenter of protests that toppled Mubarak – urging Egyptians to vote.
The Scaf also warned against any “violation” in elections process.
“The participation of citizens in the presidential election is the best guarantee of the transparency and security of the electoral process,” Mohammed al-Assar, a member of the Scaf, was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA.
“We will not allow any violation or [attempt] to influence the electoral process or the voters,” he added, saying that any person who broke the law would be treated “firmly and decisively”.
The army has pledged to hand power to the new president by July 1 and insists it is not siding with any candidate.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round, the top two vote-getters will fight a run-off in June.
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