Egyptians went to the polls Monday in the first phase of elections for the People`s Assembly, the lower house of parliament, the first since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in February, according to Xinhua.
As the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was disbanded and many new political parties mushroomed, Egypt has entered a new political phase with the participation of various forces, analysts said.
NEW CHAPTER IN DEMOCRATIC POLITICS BEGINS
Egypt`s parliament comprises the People`s Assembly, the lower house and major legislative body, and the Shura Council, the upper house. Both were dissolved shortly after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over power on Feb. 11.
The parliamentary elections were originally slated for September, followed by presidential polls within one to two months.
As some new political parties called for the postponement of the elections, the army council set Nov. 28 as the date of the first stage of the People`s Assembly elections.
Voting for the second and third stage will start on Dec. 14 and Jan. 3 respectively, while the Shura Council elections will begin on Jan. 29.
During Mubarak`s term of office, the NDP allegedly rigged elections to ensure that it could win the overwhelming majority of seats in parliament.
In the 2010 parliamentary elections, the NDP won the overwhelming majority of seats in the People`s Assembly. But many accused the elections of being manipulated, and there was a very low voter turnout.
With Mubarak`s regime toppled and the NDP disbanded, Egypt`s political landscape has undergone major changes.
The Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned in 1954, founded the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and aspired to gain the most seats in parliamentary elections.
Members of the Salafi and Sufi movements, who stayed away from the country`s political playing field, also formed their own parties.
Currently, the number of Egypt`s legitimate political parties has risen to more than 50 from 24. Some 50 parties and 6,591 independents will contest the 498 seats of the major legislature.
Polling stations in nine provinces across Egypt closed at 9:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) after a two-hour extension due to the high turnout in the first stage of the parliamentary elections, with some 17 million eligible voters casting their votes.
Analysts predicted that the voter turnout in the elections will double thanks to Egyptians` increasing awareness of political participation after the political turmoil in the country.
MAJOR BLOCS, PARTIES CONTESTING SEATS
The diversity of sects competing in the elections is one of the most important social changes in Egypt after the uproar, analysts said.
In order to gain more seats in parliament, political parties have formed various blocs before the elections.
The Democratic Alliance has the Muslim Brotherhood`s FJP as its most powerful member. The alliance was formed in July, and the number of its members once even rose as high as 34. But many parties left the alliance because of the FJP`s domination of candidates. Now it consists of the FJP, the Al-Ghad Party, the Karama Party and some other minor parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood underwent an ideological transformation as Egypt returned to multi-party elections under the eras of Anwar Sadat and Mubarak. After the 2011 unrest, Egypt`s law on political parties was modified.
After the disbanding of the NDP, the Muslim Brotherhood has become the best organized and most influential organization in the country.
The Egypt Bloc, formed in August, is the main liberal alliance consisting of the Free Egyptians Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Al-Tagammu Party. The bloc was established to compete against the Democratic Alliance but was also divided over the naming of candidates. The Free Egyptians Party was founded in April with 100,000 registered members.
The Islamist Alliance is made up of the Salafi al-Nour Party, the Salafi al-Asala Party and the Building and Development Party.
The "Completing the Revolution" Alliance is composed of the Egypt Freedom Party, the Sufi Egyptian Liberation Party, the Revolution Youth Coalition and the Youth Movement for Justice and Freedom and some other groups.
The Al-Wafd Party, one of the oldest established political parties in Egypt, is running in the elections independently.
POLITICAL LANDSCAPE HARD TO PREDICT
The parliamentary elections will shape the political landscape in Egypt to a great extent and help Egyptians through this difficult time, analysts said.
After the elections, the newly-elected People`s Assembly will appoint a special committee to draft a new constitution, which is expected to lay a legal foundation for Egypt`s political future.
Moreover, political parties which will compete in the presidential election in June next year must gain clout in parliament, as their candidates need sufficient support from both lower and upper houses.
Analysts said due to the absence of overwhelmingly dominating or ruling political parties in Egypt, it is hard to predict the outcome of the historic elections.