Egyptians cast votes in divisive presidential runoff
Egyptians on Sunday cast their final votes to decide the country's first freely elected president. The contest between the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi and former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq has polarised the nation.
AFP - Election officials on Sunday began counting votes in Egypt's divisive presidential run-off vote, which pits the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate against an ex-prime minister from the ousted regime.
As the polls closed at 2000 GMT, state television said Egypt's ruling military council issued an amended constitutional declaration, which is expected to hand them legislative and budgetary power after a court on Thursday annuled the elected parliament.
Polls closed two hours later than scheduled after Egypt's electoral commission extended voting hours, in part to allow voters a chance to cast their ballots in the relative cool of the evening hours.
They are choosing between former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Mursi.
At a press conference before the polls closed, election commission head Hatem Bagato told reporters that turnout appeared to be lower than the first round held on May 23 and 24, but gave no estimated figures.
The election comes against a backdrop of legal and political chaos, with the Muslim Brotherhood set on a confrontation path with the ruling military after it on Saturday ordered the Islamist-led parliament dissolved.
Official results are expected on June 21, but initial numbers are expected to come in immediately, with possible indications of trends emerging by the early hours of Monday morning.
As vote-counting began, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country after the 2011 uprising, issued an amended constitutional document outlining new powers, state television reported.
A military source told AFP that the declaration -- which replaces an earlier controlling document issued in March 2011 -- amends article 56 to give legislative powers and the state budget to the military.
SCAF had in January handed legislative power to parliament, but on Thursday Egypt's constitutional court effectively annulled the body, ruling that a third of its members had been elected illegally.
The amended document also reportedly includes a new version of article 60, which deals with the formation of the constituent assembly that will draft Egypt's permanent constitution.
A new panel was recently picked by the parliament following its earlier dissolution amid accusations of an Islamist monopoly.
Article 30 of the declaration will also be amended to say that the new president will be sworn in before the Supreme Constitutional Court instead of by the lower house of parliament, the source told AFP.
"The new president will head to the presidential palace amid a terrifying legal and constitutional vacuum," wrote political analyst Hassan Nafea in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm as the polls opened on Sunday.
The new president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011.
The steps that have consolidated the power of the ruling SCAF have infuriated activists and boosted those who advocated a boycott of the vote.
Analysts point to the court's decision to annul the parliament, as well as overturn a law that had threatened to bar Shafiq from the presidential race, and a recent justice ministry decision granting the army the right to arrest civilians, as proof of the military's plans to cements its power.
The electoral race has polarised the nation, dividing those who fear a return to the old regime under Shafiq from others who want to keep religion out of politics and fear the Brotherhood would stifle personal freedoms.
"A Shafiq victory will not only guarantee the SCAF has one of its men in the highest position of executive power, it will also give it an influential role in building the other political institutions of the new regime," Nafea said.
The Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, have rejected the dissolution of parliament, which they said confirms "the military council's desire to monopolise power."
"Dissolving the elected parliament must go to a fair referendum," the party insisted after the military said it consider the body dissolved.
The military says it does not want to stay in charge and has promised to hand power to the newly elected president by the end of the month.