Egypt’s third runner-up seeks election suspension: lawyer

Preliminary results from the Egyptian presidential election show leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy in third place behind former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. (Reuters)

Leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy will file an appeal for Egypt’s presidential election to be suspended because of alleged voting irregularities and a pending case over former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s right to stand, Sabahy’s lawyer said on Saturday.

“We will present an appeal on behalf of candidate Hamdeen Sabahy ... to the presidential electoral committee, citing a series of irregularities ... that have affected the outcome of the first round,” lawyer Essam el-Islamboly told Reuters.

According to Egyptian state television, preliminary results showed Sabahy in third place behind Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi after this week’s first round. Only the top two go through to a run-off in June.

Islamboly said the appeal, to be lodged on Sunday or Monday at the latest, would ask the electoral committee to suspend the election until the prosecutor-general checks a claim by a police officer that the Interior Ministry had illegally assigned 900,000 votes to Shafiq.

He said Sabahy also wanted the election halted until the constitutional court rules on the validity of an April decision by the electoral committee to disqualify Shafiq.

The committee swiftly lifted its ban on Shafiq, who was deposed leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, but referred a new law barring top Mubarak-era officials from the race to the constitutional court.

Reaching out to rivals

The apparent winners of the first round of Egypt’s landmark presidential vote reached out to rival candidates Friday ahead of a June run-off, as international monitors describe the initial voting process as “encouraging.”

Final votes were still being counted, but unofficial results suggested that the top two vote-getters out of 12 candidates were Morsi and Shafiq.

On Friday night, the Brotherhood said it was seeking to create a coalition of forces to challenge Shafiq, reaching out to Morsi’s former rivals, including Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, who left the organization to run for president.

“We call on all sincere political and national forces to unite to protect the revolution and to achieve the pledges we took before our great nation,” the Brotherhood said.

“The slogan now is: ‘the nation is in danger,’” Essam al-Erian, the deputy head of the Brotherhood’s political arm, told AFP.

The Brotherhood called a meeting of various candidates on Saturday afternoon, but the campaigns of Abul Fotouh, former foreign minister Amr Mussa and Nasserist candidate Sabbahi said the three men would not attend.

Shafiq also called for broad support from former rivals, calling on his competitors by name to join him, and promising there would be no return to the old regime.

“I reach out to all the partners and I pledge that we would all work together for the good of Egypt,” he told a news conference on Saturday.

Addressing the youth that spearheaded the 2011 revolt, he said: “your revolution has been hijacked and I am committed to bringing (it) back.”

“I pledge now, to all Egyptians, we shall start a new era. There is no going back.”

Polarized runoff

A Shafiq-Morsi run-off looks likely further polarize a nation that rose up against the authoritarian Mubarak 15 months ago but has since suffered endemic violence and a declining economy.

The contest presents a difficult choice for activists who led the revolt against Mubarak. For them, choosing Shafiq would be to admit the revolution had failed, but a vote for Morsi would threaten the very freedoms they fought for.

Independent analyst Hisham Kassem said the situation “is one of the most difficult political situations that Egypt has ever known.”

“We face the risk of maintaining the Mubarak regime, or Islamizing the country,” he told AFP.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre monitored the elections, told journalists on Saturday that the process had been “encouraging” but noted that he and his monitors had faced unprecedented constraints.

“I would say that these (elections) have been encouraging to me,” he said, adding that authorities has imposed “constraints placed on us as witnesses that have never been placed on us before.”

He said minor “haphazard” violations had been observed, but there did not appear to be systematic irregularities that favored any one candidate.

The electoral commission is expected to declare the official results on Tuesday, but media tallies and Brotherhood figures put Morsi in first place and Shafiq in second.

And Erian said Friday it was “completely clear” that Morsi and Shafiq had topped the presidential vote and would compete in the June 16-17 run-off.

He said Morsi had won 25.3 percent of the vote and Shafiq 24 percent, with Sabbahi at 22 percent.

Both Mosi and Shafiq had been written off as long shots just weeks before the historic election in which the country freely voted for the first time to elect a president after Mubarak’s ouster in a democratic uprising.

The election, which saw 50 million eligible voters given the chance to choose, was hailed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who congratulated Egypt on its “historic” presidential election and said Washington was ready to work with a new government in Cairo.

Electoral commission officials said turnout was around 50 percent over the two days of voting.

The election follows a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed free parliamentary elections.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since Mubarak’s ouster, has vowed to restore civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its withdrawal from politics will be just an illusion

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