Islamist, ex-PM in Egypt Run-Offإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Egypt looks set for a run-off presidential vote between the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi and Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq, pitting the Islamists who helped oust a dictator against his last premier.
A run-off between Shafiq and Mursi will further polarize a nation that rose up against president Hosni Mubarak's authoritarianism 15 months ago but has since suffered a spike in violence and a declining economy.
Candidate campaigns and Egyptian media reported Mursi leading, with Shafiq in second place and pan-Arab socialist Hamdeen Sabbahi in third.
The independent Al-Masry al-Youm newspaper reported on its website that Mursi had won with 24.9 percent, followed by Shafiq with 24.5 percent and Sabbahi with 21.1 percent, basing on figures announced by judges in counting stations.
The Muslim Brotherhood also announced that its candidate was leading, with 90 percent of votes tallied from the Wednesday-Thursday election.
"There will be a run-off between Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq," the Islamist group said on its website.
Representatives of the 12 candidates contesting the election watched the overnight vote count across the country and were present when the individual results were announced at each polling station.
Judges overseeing the count then handed the official results of each station to the candidates' representatives. The Islamist group compiled the results from around the country and then announced them.
A spokesman from Shafiq's campaign, Karim Salem, said they were "confident that General Shafiq would be in the second round" but they were still waiting for official results.
"It's the candidate who was the clearest and the most honest," Salem told Agence France Presse, denying fears that Shafiq would represent a retreat from the goals of the uprising.
"No (the Mubarak) era is finished, politics have changed. Egypt is entering democracy," Salem said.
The top two vote-getters will face each other in a run-off on June 16-17.
Between now and then, there is likely to be intense horse-trading between the two frontrunners to win over supporters of the losing candidates, some of whom share similar beliefs.
In a statement, moderate Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh appeared to throw his support behind Mursi, urging voters to confront the "corrupt" regime ousted last year, to which Shafiq belonged.
In Cairo, voters were thrilled by the free, contested election, whose results were not predetermined, but conceded that many challenges lay ahead.
"It's our first year of democracy, like a baby that is still learning to crawl," said Mustafa Abdo, a bank employee.
The election, which saw 50 million eligible voters given the chance to choose among 12 candidates, was hailed by U.S. 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.
Contenders included former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who touted his experience but was hammered for his ties to the old regime.
Shafiq was also shunned by some for his time in Mubarak's government, but others praised his law-and-order platform in a country where many crave stability.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mursi, faced competition from Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrayed himself as a consensus choice.
During his campaign, Mursi offered a fiery stump speech, pledging a presidency that would be based on Islam but would not be a theocracy.
The election seals a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed parliamentary elections that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.
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.
The army, with its vast and opaque economic power, wants to keep its budget a secret by remaining exempt from parliamentary scrutiny, maintain control of military-related legislation and secure immunity from prosecution.
Mubarak, 84 and ailing, is being held in a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo where he awaits the verdict of his murder trial on June 2 over the deaths of protesters during the uprising.