|An Egyptian man shows his ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in Cairo on May 23, 2012. Egyptians went to polls on Wednesday morning to elect a new president after the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak last year.(Xinhua/Nasser Nouri)
by Li Laifang, Shaimaa Talat, Tian Dongdong
CAIRO, May 23 (Xinhua) -- Egyptians went to the polls on Wednesday to elect their president in a free and fervent manner after the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak last year.
The polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. (0600 GMT) across the country under tight security of police and troops. Helicopters hovered above Cairo, about 50 million people are eligible to cast their votes on Wednesday and Thursday.
Some people flocked to polling stations two hours before the polling stations opened. The scene was rarely seen over the past decades due to fraud allegations in previous polls during the Mubarak age.
Ahmed Fatah, a middle-aged Muslim who came to a polling station at 6:30 a.m., told Xinhua that he held a high expectation of the election.
"I hope the new president can restore peace and stability in our life. Our economy has suffered from continuous chaos and violence, we want the new president to revive our economy, make our life easier and bring back the good reputation and great influence Egypt used to have," said Fatah.
In Maadi Secondary School polling station, which was specially for women voters, a very long queue waited outside at noon.
In a voting room, representatives for Shafiq, Sabahy, Morsi, Fotouh, and Abdallah al-Ashaal sat in a row to observe the process, with judge Haidy Fadaly. The polling station was in charge of 17, 000 voters in total.
"Everything is ok inside the committee, and I noticed no violations either in or outside the committee," Soraya Mohamed , 42 ,told Xinhua.
Nermin Nabil, 34, a Christian, said she voted for Moussa, considering him not from the former government's remnants.
"I will vote for Moussa, I trust him and his experience, and I don't trust the Islamists, because in fact they don't work for promoting Islam as they claim, but use Islam as a tool to promote themselves and their interests," Nabil said.
Supporting another trend, Ghada Abbas, 35, said she voted for Hamdeen Sabahy because he is "Nasserist" and "moderate".
Outside the polling station, three young men were holding pictures of the dead during the turmoil, in order to remind people not to forget the past. Troops tried to persuade them to leave, but failed.
"Remember those martyrs and don't vote for the former regime remnants," read a banner.
Presidential candidate Amr Moussa, who voted on Wednesday morning in Cairo, said he would accept the results of the polls as long as there was no fraud. He said Egypt needs a capable statesman to run the country over the critical period.
The People's Assembly Speaker Saad el-Katatni, who cast his vote in a polling station, said the lower house of parliament will cooperate with the new president, official MENA news agency reported.
"We will all help the next president and cooperate with him," he was quoted as saying. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Katatni is a member, nominated its Freedom and Justice Party chairman Mohmed Morsi as presidential candidate.
A policeman was killed in a shooting outside a polling station in Cairo Wednesday morning. The policeman, Mohamed Emmara, was shot while he was trying to intervene to settle a brawl between two people who exchanged fire in front of a polling station in Cairo's Shubra district.
The polling stations witnessed a high turnout after the voting went on. In some areas, voters lined up several hundred meters long to wait.
Mohamed Rady, 55, said he decided to vote for Aboul Fotouh who was labeled as a moderate Islamist. "I believe Fotouh can promote Egypt as he promised, I like him as he is neither extremist nor very liberal."
"For sure, we as Egyptians are experiencing a great change. We all should make use of it and cope with the changes that have already happened, which means that we must sweep away all traces of the former regime," Rady noted.
For Fatma Mohamed, who described herself as a 56-year-old housewife, choosing a president with her own hands was an exciting experience.
"I'm here with my husband. Frankly, this is the second time I cast a vote in my whole life after the last parliamentary election, " said Fatma. "I never cast a vote before the Jan. 25 unrest. That is why I was keen on coming so early to vote."
Head of the Higher Presidential Elections Committee Farouk Sultan said on Wednesday there were some violations committed by the candidates related to the electoral silence.
"There are three in different agents for presidential candidates Shafiq, Morsi, and Fotouh in different electoral committees. They were promoting their candidates and were referred to the General Prosecution to take the necessary measures," Sultan said.
Among the 12 presidential candidates, top hopefuls are former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Islamist Aboul Fotouh, Freedom and Justice Party chairman Mohamed Morsi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and left-wing Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahy.
Government employees have one day off for the voting and school classes were also halted. Polling stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) for the two-day voting.
To ensure the transparency and fairness of the elections, 14, 500 judges and 65,000 public servants were deployed nationwide to monitor the process. Three foreign civil society organizations and 49 local ones were allowed to observe the event. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is also in Egypt to monitor the elections with his Carter Center.
The ruling military council has vowed to ensure free and fair elections and urged citizens to participate.
Citizens' participation would send a message to the world that the polls are conducted in free will, said Major General Mohamed el-Assar, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ( SCAF) on Tuesday.
The general told reporters that people would accept the results and that the new president would meet their demands.
Analysts say it is unlikely to have a clear winner in the first round as the votes divide among popular candidates. The run-off will be held in June. To win the elections requires a candidate to gain over 50 percent of the votes.
The results of the polls will be announced on June 21. The SCAF, which took over power from Mubarak, is expected to transfer power to the new president by June 30, which marks the end of the transitional period.
As the standoff about the constituent assembly remains, the new president's power is not clear.
Early this year, Egyptians elected a new parliament, of which the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Salafist Nour Party occupied more than 70 percent of seats. The competition for the presidency is mainly between Islamists and secular politicians.