Brotherhood claims lead as Egypt vote count begins

Brotherhood claims lead as Egypt vote count begins

The Muslim Brotherhood has quickly staked a claim for its candidate to advance to a runoff vote, saying its exit polls showed him leading in Egypt's landmark presidential election to succeed ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.

As vote-counting began yesterday, exit polls by several Arab television stations also suggested the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi was ahead of the pack of 13 candidates. The reliability of the various exit surveys was not known, and a few hours after the end of two days of voting, only a tiny percentage of the ballots had been counted.

But the swiftness of the Brotherhood's claim showed its eagerness to plant its flag and establish in the public eye that Morsi had at least won entry into a second round vote.

There are five prominent candidates, but none is expected to win outright in the first round. A run-off between the two leading contenders would be held June 16-17.

The first truly competitive presidential election in Egypt's history turned into a heated battle between Islamist candidates and secular figures rooted in Mubarak's old regime. The most polarizing figures in the race were Morsi and former air force commander and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a veteran of Mubarak's rule.
The Brotherhood is hoping for a presidential victory to seal its political domination of Egypt, which would be a dramatic turnaround from the decades it was repressed under Mubarak. It already holds nearly half of parliament after victories in elections late last year.

The group has promised a "renaissance" of Egypt, not only reforming Mubarak-era corruption and reviving decrepit infrastructure, but also bringing a greater degree of rule by Islamic law. That prospect has alarmed more moderate Muslims, secular Egyptians and the Christian minority, who all fear restrictions on civil rights and worry that the Brotherhood shows similar domineering tendencies as Mubarak. " I think we are on the verge of a new era. We trusted God, we trusted in the people, we trusted in our party," prominent Brotherhood figure Essam el-Erian said at a news conference at which the group claimed its lead.

Morsi's campaign spokesman, Murad Mohammed Ali, cited exit polls conducted by Brotherhood campaign workers nationwide, though he declined to give percentages for Morsi's lead.

Regional television channels, citing their own exit polls, also placed Morsi as the top finisher, with a tussle for second place between Shafiq, moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi.

Across the country, election workers cracked open the transparent ballot boxes sealed by serial-numbered plastic bands to ensure they had not been tampered with and began working their way through the paper ballots. By 1 am today, four hours after polls closed, results from about 5 per cent of the 13,000 polling stations emerged, putting Morsi on top at 35 per cent, followed by Shafiq with 22 per cent and Abolfotoh with 16 per cent.

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