Middle East

Egypt starts presidential election run-off

Presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood casts his vote at a polling station
Image caption The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Mursi voted in Zagazig

Egyptians are voting in a two-day run-off election to choose their first freely elected president.

Mohammed Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, is up against Ahmed Shafiq, former President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.

The ruling generals have vowed to hand over power to the winner by 30 June.

But correspondents say there is less enthusiasm than there was for previous rounds of voting, and some have called for a boycott or spoiled ballots.

There were early queues outside some polling stations on Saturday, but later they were reduced in some places to just a steady trickle of voters, reports the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.

The first day of voting has now ended.

Particularly noticeable is the lack of young people voting, our correspondent says.

They seem to be particularly disenchanted with the choice between Mr Shafiq, a candidate seen as a representative of the old regime, and the Islamist Mr Mursi, he adds.

While state TV has been urging people to vote, some activists have been distributing flyers in several Cairo metro stations calling for a boycott.

Mr Mursi's campaign held a news conference on Saturday afternoon in which it said several electoral violations had been reported, and urged voters to report any incidents.

Parliament dissolved

Meanwhile, the top official in parliament, Sami Mahran, has told the BBC he has received a letter from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) confirming for the first time that the lower house, the People's Assembly, had been dissolved.

It follows a ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday that the law governing Egypt's first democratic elections in more than six decades was unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which secured the biggest bloc of seats in a vote that ended in January, said order to dissolve the assembly "represents a coup against the whole democratic process".

Mr Mursi's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won some of its 235 seats in the People's Assembly by running candidates for individual seats, as did the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party.

The Scaf's decision to dissolve parliament so swiftly means that whoever wins this weekend's presidential run-off could take office without the oversight of a sitting parliament and without a permanent constitution to define his powers or duties.

A 100-member assembly appointed by lower and upper houses of parliament earlier this week to draft the new constitution may also be dissolved.

Scaf officials have told state media that it now plans to issue a new interim constitution and potentially select a replacement constitutional panel itself.

The Nobel laureate and former head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, warned that Egypt was suffering under worse conditions now than under Mr Mubarak, and that it was on the brink of allowing a "new emperor" to establish total domination.

"We are in a total mess, a confused process that - assuming good intentions - has led us nowhere except the place we were at 18 months ago, but under even more adverse conditions," he told the Guardian .

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Cairo says the ruling generals insist they are moving Egypt towards civilian rule.

And with some newly restored powers of arrest and interrogation for soldiers, they are warning any effort to disrupt the run-off vote will be dealt with firmly, our correspondent adds.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called on voters to "isolate" Mr Shafiq, whom it calls "the representative of the former regime", while Mr Shafiq has said he will restore stability to Egypt.

Mr Shafiq came second in last month's first round, in which turnout among the 52 million eligible voters was only 46%. Official results gave Mr Mursi 24.8% and Mr Shafiq 23.7%.

Voting at 13,000 polling stations, spread across Egypt's 27 governorates, is being held over Saturday and Sunday, from 08:00 (06:00 GMT) to 20:00 (18:00 GMT). Voting on Saturday has already been extended until 21:00.

Final results from the Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) are due by 21 June, but are expected to arrive much earlier. Partial results from the first round were declared within 24 hours.