Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood candidate has won a spot in a run-off election, according to partial results from the country’s first genuinely competitive presidential election.
A former prime minister and a leftist were in a tight race for second place and a chance to run against him to become the country’s next leader.
The runoff will be held on June 16-17, pitting the two top contenders from the first round of voting held on Wednesday and yesterday. The victor is to be announced on June 21.
The landmark vote – the fruit of last year’s uprising that toppled long-time leader Hosni Mubarak – turned into a heated battle between Islamist candidates and secular figures rooted in Mubarak’s old regime.
The most polarising figures in the race were the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former air force commander and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a veteran of Mubarak’s rule.
By midday, the counting had been completed in at least 20 of the country’s 27 provinces, representing around half the votes cast – though workers were still sorting through the paper ballots from Egypt’s biggest metropolis, the capital Cairo and its sister city Giza.
The election commission said turnout in the election’s first round was about 50% of more than 50 million eligible voters.
Mr Morsi was in the lead with 28% of the ballots so far, according to the independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, which was compiling reports from counting stations. That is likely to secure him a spot in the run-off.
But the race for second place was neck-and-neck between Mr Shafiq and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who was a dark horse during months of campaigning but had a surprising surge in the days before voting began as Egyptians looked for an alternative to both Islamists and the former regime figures known as “feloul” or “remnants.”
Mr Sabahi is a leftist who claims the mantle of the nationalist, socialist ideology of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Egypt’s president from 1956 to 1970.
“The results reflect that people are searching for a third alternative, those who fear a religious state and those who don’t want Mubarak’s regime to come back,” said Sabahi campaign spokesman Hossam Mounis.
Earlier in the day, Al-Masry Al-Youm’s tally had Mr Shafiq with 21% of the vote so far, and Mr Sabahi at 20%. But then Mr Sabahi scored a surprise win in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, where he came in first and Morsi and Shafiq lagged far behind. That vaulted Mr Sabahi into a narrow second place lead for the moment, though several Shafiq strongholds in the Nile Delta had still to report.
The count from Cairo and Giza was not expected to be finished until early tomorrow.