|Many Egyptian voters claim fraud and vote irregularities during the parliamentary elections [AFP]
Egypt's ruling party is set to dominate a second round of parliamentary elections, a week after the first round was condemned for alleged fraud.
The National Democratic Party (NDP), which has never lost an election, will probably win on Sunday all but a handful of seats that may be taken up by minor parties with no significant grass-roots support, after the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd party pulled out.
With the Brotherhood sidelined from formal politics, the government's main critics have one less platform for attack as Egypt heads towards a 2011 presidential election whose outcome is more uncertain.
President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has no vice-president, unlike his two predecessors, and no clear successor after 29 years at the helm of the Arab world's most populous country.
Many Egyptians say he may be grooming his 46-year-old son for power but analysts say Gamal Mubarak lacks the common touch, and the support from the military, that helped cement his father's 29-year tenure.
The scale of the government's first-round win - the NDP took 209 out of 221 seats in the November 28 vote - was a surprise.
Political analysts had expected the Brotherhood to pick up at least some seats but it won none. Other opposition parties and independents won 12 seats.
The state High Elections Commission said there were reports of some irregularities but not enough to discredit the vote.
The United States, Egypt's main ally and a major donor, said it was "dismayed" by the reports of disruption of campaign activities, arrests of supporters and the denial of access to the media for some opposition voices.
Hassan Nafaa, a political analyst at Cairo University, said: "This delegitimises the system, and if there are intentions for Gamal Mubarak to be the next presidential candidate, there will be more room for people to question the credibility of such an act."
A state news website quoted sources as saying on Friday that there could be a cabinet reshuffle, but Ahmed Nazif, the Egyptian prime minister, was likely to remain consistent.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which campaigns for an Islamic state and skirts a ban on religious parties by fielding candidates as independents, held 86 seats in the outgoing parliament. After winning no first-round seats, it said on Wednesday it was pulling out of the second-round runoff, in which it had 26 candidates.
Wafd, the next biggest opposition group, won two seats in the first round but has said it will not take them up.
The departure of the main opposition parties does not mean passion will be entirely absent from Sunday's runoff, in which rival candidates from the NDP will face off in 114 seats.
Several outbreaks of violence and injuries reported during last week's vote were linked to clashes between ruling party candidates.
"Self-interest and benefits are the main motives behind joining the NDP. There is always rivalry between NDP candidates who compete to the point of violence to get to parliament," Amr Hamzawi, of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, said.
Egypt's High Administrative Court on Saturday criticised the election commission for allowing polls to proceed in 24 districts last week despite court rulings halting them after many opposition candidates complained of being disqualified.
The court said in a statement: "The High Elections Commission's non-implementation of previous rulings nullifies the results [in these districts], making the composition of the People's Assembly fraught with the suspicion of invalidity."