Polling stations have closed after the first day of Egypt’s parliamentary elections where officials extended the hours to cope with the high turnout.
Ten months since the end of 30 years of autocratic rule by Hosni Mubarak, ousted by popular protests in one of the seminal events of the Arab Spring, up to 40 million voters are being asked to choose a new parliament.
“It was no use to vote before. Our voices were completely irrelevant,” Mona Abdel Moneim, one of several women who said they were voting for the first time, said in the Shubra district of Cairo.
Voting for the lower house of parliament takes place in three stages beginning on Monday in the main cities of Cairo, Alexandria and other areas, with the moderate Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood expected to triumph.
The highly complex procedure to elect a full assembly will end in March.
The backdrop was ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the interim military rulers who stepped in after Mubarak’s fall. Forty-two people were killed and more than 3000 injured.
Voting passed off peacefully and the opening hours of polling booths were extended to 9pm (0600 AEDT Monday) to enable the thousands who waited for hours in long queues to cast their ballots.
“We were surprised that people turned out to vote in large numbers, thank God,” Abdel Moez Ibrahim, who heads the High Judicial Elections Commission (HJEC), told reporters, adding that there had been no security problems.
The poll was endangered last week as unrest gripped the country, but military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi stuck defiantly to the schedule and called for a large turnout.
Much remains unclear about how the new parliament will function and whether it will be able to resolve a standoff with the armed forces over how much power they will retain under a new constitution to be written next year.
The formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, is widely expected to emerge as the largest power but without an outright majority when results for the lower parliament are published on January 13.
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 and ideologically split parliament.
“I’m voting for the future of Egypt,” declared Yussuf, a 25-year-old software engineer in the Al-Raml district of Alexandria, Egypt’s second-biggest city and a major port on the Mediterranean.
“This is the first free election in our country. I hope it will be the first fair election,” he said.
After two days of voting in the first stage of the elections for the lower parliament, other cities and regions will follow on December 14 and January 3.
After these, another round of voting will take place from January 29 for the upper house of parliament, and presidential elections are to be held by no later than the end of June next year.
Mubarak, who is on trial for murder and corruption in Cairo along with his two sons, is expected to be following events from a military hospital in the capital where he is reportedly being treated for cancer.