Egypt on Tuesday hailed the start of its first post-revolution election as a triumph for democracy as more voters headed to the polls, boosting turn-out for a vote that had looked in doubt last week.
“The birth of the new Egypt,” declared the state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper on Tuesday, the second day of voting, after the “huge turnout, free voting in a secure atmosphere” on Monday.
“The people have passed the democracy test,” headlined the independent daily newspaper al-Shorouk, while the interim ruling military leaders expressed their “happiness” at proceedings.
Egyptians in Cairo and the port city Alexandria waited in long queues on Monday to cast ballots for a new parliament — the start of multi-stage elections that are the first since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.
On Tuesday, the arrival of people at polling booths was a steady stream rather than the deluge seen the day before.
“I decided to come today to avoid the crowds,” 30-year-old Rafik told AFP in the Heliopolis area of Cairo. “It was important for me to vote because I feel it’s the first time that my opinion is taken into account.”
The formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, is expected to emerge as the largest power, but without a majority, when results for the new lower house of parliament are published on January 13.
The backdrop to the vote was ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the interim military rulers who stepped in at the end of Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Forty-two were killed and more than 3,000 injured.
Egypt’s stock market spiked more than 5.0 percent on Tuesday morning as investors welcomed the stability after weeks of falls caused by the political upheaval and unrest.
The largely successful first day will be seen by the army leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi as vindicating his insistence that voting should go ahead on schedule despite calls for a delay.
Tantawi had “expressed his happiness at the way the process was carried out and the high turnout, especially among women and the young,” said Ismail Etman, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Protesters had again occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo last week, the epicentre of protests against Mubarak, but this time they were calling for the resignation of Tantawi and his fellow generals.
The demonstrations stemmed from fears that the junta, initially welcomed as a source of stability after Mubarak’s fall, was looking to consolidate its power and was mishandling the transition period.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party described the first day of polling as a “joyous day, unprecedented in the history of Egyptian people who continue to write their future in a way that amazed the world.”
But it suggested turn-out might be lower than the level the long queues of enthusiastic voters suggested.
According to exit polls conducted by its own observers, turnout was between 30 to 32 percent in the areas of the country that voted, with 27 percent of voters casting their ballots in the capital Cairo.
Monday “might very well be seen as a positive step in Egypt’s transition,” wrote political commentator Issandr El-Amrani, referring to the “public buy-in” to democracy and “a symbolic shift” from the army to parliament.
He warned, however,” about the “incompetent” organisation of the election process, which could lead to frustration and violence, as well as the myriad of uncertainties surrounding the army’s future role and the transition process.
Voting for the lower house of parliament takes place in three stages starting in Cairo, Alexandria and other areas. The rest of the country votes in December and in January.
Each stage will be followed by a run-off vote a week later.
Once results are published on January 13, the country will then head into another three rounds of voting to elect an upper house in a process widely criticised for it complexity.
As well as the Muslim Brotherhood, hardline Islamists, secular parties and groups representing the interests of the former Mubarak regime are all expected to win seats, raising the prospect of a highly fragmented new parliament.
The stakes are high for Egypt, the cultural leader of the Arab world — and the conduct and results of the election will have repercussions for the entire Middle East at a time of wrenching change caused by the Arab Spring.