Egypt’s influential Muslim Brotherhood was leading in the opening round of the country’s first post-revolution parliamentary elections, press reports said yesterday.
Early indications suggest the Islamist movement’s Freedom and Justice Party, as well as parties belonging to the hardline Salafi movements, were ahead in six provinces, the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper reported.
According to the independent daily al-Shorouk, in Cairo “the first signs show the Freedom and Justice Party with 47 percent of the votes, and 22 percent for the Egyptian bloc,” a coalition of secular parties.
The vote on Monday and Tuesday in Cairo, Alexandria and other areas was the first of three stages of an election for a new lower house of parliament. The rest of the country follows next month and in January.
The Brotherhood believes a majority in the new parliament should form a new government, the head of the group’s political party said on Tuesday, a position that could set the Islamists on course for a row with Egypt’s military rulers.
Mohamed Mursi, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, said a Cabinet not backed by a parliamentary majority could not govern in practice.
“A government that is not based on a parliamentary majority cannot conduct its work in practice,” Mursi said to reporters during a tour of polling stations in the working-class district of Shubra in Cairo.
“Therefore we see that it is natural that the parliamentary majority in the coming parliament will be the one that forms the government,” added Mursi, whose group was banned under deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
“We see that it is better for it to be a coalition government built on a majority coalition in the parliament,” Mursi added.
The military council last week appointed a new prime minister to form a government following the resignation of the previous Cabinet in the face of street protests demanding an immediate end to army rule.
Though a member of the military council has said the new parliament would not have the power to dismiss the Cabinet or form a new one, observers question whether the generals will be able to resist the will of a chamber elected in a fair vote.
According to their own timetable, the generals will hand power to a civilian president by the middle of next year. Until then, the council will exercise sweeping powers formerly held by Mubarak, for whom the legislature was no more than a rubber stamp.
Turnout has been high for the first round of the three-phase election. A member of the military council said on Tuesday he expected turnout of more than 70 percent of registered voters.
Mursi, speaking before the polls were due to close in the first phase on Tuesday, said indications suggested a turnout of close to 40 percent.
“The Egyptian people today are performing a duty for their nation,” he said.