Millions vote in landmark Egypt elections

Country’s first free parliamentary ballot in decades enters second day, with turnout so far described as “very high”.

Army guards vote Egypt

Egypt’s first free elections for decades have entered a second day, with turnout so far described as “very high”.

Logistical problems plagued many polling stations on Monday but the first day of voting passed mostly peacefully.

Egyptians are voting to create the first democratically elected assembly in the country’s history.

The queues formed early and quickly at polling stations across Egypt on Monday, as voters cast their ballots in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in February.

In the capital, Cairo, thousands of voters flocked to schools in the neighbourhoods of Zamalek, Nasr City and Maadi – among others – well before polling booths opened at 8am, to stake their place in line.

Logistical problems continued to plague many polling stations across the country, with some voters reporting that stations had not opened more than an hour after the time scheduled, as ink used to mark voters’ fingers had not arrived.

“The two problems are this, one, ballot papers arriving very late, secondly, judges are arriving very late [and] some not even turning up,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Shubra, said.

Additionally, a ban on campaigning at polling stations appeared to have been violated, with members of parties handing out pamphlets and banners steps away from the ballot box.

The government did not release official figures on voter turnout, but observers from the Muslim Brotherhood said that turnout was between 30 and 32 per cent in the nine governorates which voted. In Cairo, turnout was around 27 per cent, the group said.

Voter enthusiasm

Despite the problems, many voters expressed enthusiasm for what they said they hoped would be Egypt’s first truly free and fair election.

In Assiut, one of the most significant governorates in the Upper Egypt region, there appeared to be an exceptionally high turnout by the standards of the country’s previous votes.

“The lines have not stopped outside the polling centres,” Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh reported from Assiut. “If we’re judging by the turnout, this has been by all accounts a success.”

Women were turning out in high numbers, unusual for such a conservative region, she said.

There were no signs of violence or coercion, she reported, but there were campaign violations. Poor organisation by authorities was also an issue, she said.

Voters in the northern city of Alexandria began arriving at polling stations not long after sunrise.

Armed navy troops in blue helmets guarded the stations, and unarmed police officers directed voters once they entered.

Poll workers opened the stations shortly after 9am, around an hour after the voting was scheduled to begin, but there was no sign of anger among the calm crowds, who seemed anxious only to get inside.

Across central Alexandria, brief downpours did not seem to dampen turnout, with long lines of men and women snaking out of nearly every polling place.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, made its presence felt throughout the city.

FJP workers could be seen advising voters on how the ballots had been organised while dressed in hats, pins and vests emblazoned with the scales of justice, the group’s distinctive symbol.

Election timetable

FJP workers handed out tiny calendars bearing the party’s symbol and name, and erected tents – covered with party banners – where men with laptops helped voters learn their unique voting number and location, while also providing them with party flyers.

Voters are choosing 168 of the 498 deputies, which will form the new lower house of parliament. The vote is only the first stage in an election timetable which lasts until March 2012 and covers two houses of parliament.

 Jamal Elshayyal reports from Alexandria

In this round, some of Egypt’s most populous areas will vote, including Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Port Said and Luxor.

More than 50 political parties are contesting the elections, along with thousands of candidates running as independents.

But the preparations were marred by a new wave of demonstrations, as protesters continued to occupy Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the military council that replaced Mubarak hand power to a civilian government.

Some activists called for a boycott of the vote before it began.

“I am boycotting because I believe it is a circus,” Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian blogger and activist, told Al Jazeera.

“You cannot have clean elections while the police force which has not been purged is in charge of securing the ballot boxes.

“You have to settle the battle in the streets, then you settle it in the ballot boxes. We have to win our occupation in Tahrir Square first.”

– Malika Bilal reported from Cairo; Evan Hill reported from Alexandria

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies