(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Turnout was expected to be high in Egypt's first genuine multicandidate presidential election in the republic's history.
Some opinion polls suggested that 80 per cent of the 50 million eligible voters would cast ballots on Wednesday and Thursday and 73 per cent would participate in the run-off in mid-June. Other polls put the number of voters at 10-20 per cent less.
A dozen candidates are standing for the post in spite of the fact that the executive's powers remain undefined because post-Mubarak Egypt does not have a new constitution. To make matters worse, the commission slated to draft the document has been dissolved because it was dominated by Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraorthodox Noor party, which hold the majority of seats in both houses of parliament.
Opinion surveys have also revealed that the front-runners are former Arab League secretary general Amr Musa, independent Islamist Abdul Moneim Abolfotouh, the Brotherhood's Mohammad Mursi, and former air-force commander Ahmed Shafiq. But no one can predict the outcome because up to the eve of the vote, many Egyptians - 40 per cent - did not know which candidate to support.
Egyptians have been confused and conflicted ever since the popular uprising toppled 30-year president Hosni Mubarak on February 14, 2011.
Liberal secularists who mounted the uprising have been sidelined by both the Islamists and the military which assumed presidential powers following the ouster of Mubarak. While several of the eight also-rans appealed to voters from the revolutionary groups, they could not get together behind a single candidate.
The contest involving the four front-runners is, in fact, a competition among former regime figures. Musa and Shafiq were stalwarts of the Mubarak era, the former as foreign minister and the latter as air force commander and ultimately Mubarak's last premier. Abolfotouh and Mursi were, of course, leading lights in the Brotherhood, sometimes tolerated, sometimes persecuted but always the main opposition group ever since the movement was founded in 1928.
Musa has, however, disavowed his connection with Mubarak and is seen as a critic of the former president while Shafiq was a creature of Mubarak and proclaims himself a loyalist who seeks to restore the old regime. Shafiq has benefitted from military backing and positive publicity in the government/military dominated media.
Abolfotouh, a liberal reform Islamist, has long challenged the dominant conservatives in the Brotherhood so his rivalry with Mursi is longstanding. Abolfotouh commands the support of young, educated Brothers and former Brothers while Mursi enjoys the backing of the organisation, its electoral machine, the movement's parliamentary bloc, and rank and file members who have long had the benefits of Brotherhood association.
Musa and Shafiq split the secular liberal vote while Abolfotouh and Mursi divide the Islamist vote, making it difficult to predict the outcome of the popular consultation.
For most Egyptians, this is the most important aspect of the exercise. In previous elections the result has always been predictable. Mubarak was certain to win. In 2005, the last time they went to the polls in a presidential race, 87 per cent of the ballots were cast for Mubarak. Although it had been proclaimed a "multicandidate election," this was not the case. Liberal lawyer Ayman Nour, who stood against Mubarak and garnered 7 per cent of the vote, was promptly put in jail for three years - accused of fraud - for daring to challenge the long serving president. Ironically, Nour was also prevented from standing in this contest by his conviction.
The fact that this scenario will not be repeated is the main gain of the uprising/revolution - whoever wins. Furthermore, it is unlikely that any of Mubarak's elected successors will be able to repeat his record of standing for election repeatedly and staying in power for nearly three decades. The one provision in the new constitution all parties are certain to insist is included is the stipulation that a presidential term should be four years, renewable only once.
This amounts to a major concession granted by the military to the Egyptian people who have known only autocratic rule throughout the country's long, long history. Having accepted a real multicandidate vote, the generals will have to agree to further concessions when it comes to the writing of the new constitution.
They have spelled out their price for capitulation on elements of the defining document: they want control over the vast economic empire they have built up, they seek to manage their own budget (which will be partially confidential), and they argue they must determine whether Egypt goes to war or not.
These conditions mean that there may be separation of powers involving the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - but not between the regime and the military. Ultimately, however, over time the military will have to cede these powers and go back to barracks.