Nine governorates head to polls in final phase of vote for lower house of parliament.
|Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna reports from Cairo|
Egyptians have flocked to the polls for the third round of the country’s parliamentary election, the first election since the uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak from the presidency in February last year.
Queues began to form around schools that had been turned into polling stations at 8am local time (0600 GMT) on Tuesday. Al Jazeera’s correspondents in El-Arish and Shubra El-Khaima reported good voter turnouts.
The final round takes place over two days in the Nile Delta provinces of Qaliubiya, Gharbiya and Daqahliya, the New Valley province, the southern governorates of Minya and Qena, the border province of Matruh, and in North and South Sinai.
The run-up to this round of polls has been overshadowed by the deaths of 17 people last month in clashes between the army and protesters demanding the ruling military step aside immediately.
But the military generals have insisted the election process will not be derailed by violence.
Islamist groups came late to the uprising, but have so far won the biggest share of seats in the previous rounds of the first free and fair elections in six decades.
“Overwhelmingly we are hearing people tell us that they will be voting for the Salafi Nour party or the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party Freedom and Justice, so it’s very much a lot of grassroots support for the Islamist parties here,” Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reported from El-Arish, in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
“When it comes to the individual candidates, people are not talking to us about policy and issue and what the individual candidates stand for; it is very much on tribal and clan lines, that’s how people are voting here.”
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, near a polling station in Shubra El-Khaima, north of Cairo, said: “This particular area is a bedrock of Muslim Brotherhood support.
“Some 70 per cent of the vote, it is understood, has gone to the Islamist parties so far, with the Freedom and Justice party the clear front-runner.”
Monitors mostly praised the first two rounds as free of the ballot stuffing, thuggery and vote rigging that once guaranteed landslide wins for Mubarak’s party.
But police raids on pro-democracy and rights groups last week have disrupted the work of leading Western-backed election monitors and drew accusations that the army was deliberately trying to weaken oversight of the vote and silence critics.
The government said the raids were part of an investigation into illegal foreign funding of political parties and not aimed at weakening rights groups, which have been among the fiercest critics of the army’s turbulent rule.
Nevertheless, the US called on the Egyptian government to halt “harassment” of the groups involved.
The US-funded International Republican Institute said it had been invited by Egypt government to monitor the election and did not give funding to political parties or civic groups.
It urged the government to let staff return to their offices and obtain the official registration they had long requested.
“There is no reason not to allow IRI to assess the elections,” the IRI said in a statement on Monday.
Fourteen million eligible voters in nine regions will choose which parties will occupy 150 of the seats in parliament.
The army, under pressure to hasten the handover to civilian rule, issued a decree on Sunday to shorten the forthcoming upper house election to two rounds from three.
After the voting for the lower house of parliament, Egyptians will vote for members of an upper house and the process to elect a full assembly will end in February.