Egypt’s presidential election frontrunners were vying for deals with rival candidates Sunday in a bid to appease a polarised nation that will choose between an Islamist and a Mubarak-era minister in a June runoff.
Final votes were still being counted, but unofficial results suggested that the top two candidates were the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former premier under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Middle ground votes were up for grabs, with both candidates since Saturday shuttling between meetings with different political forces, as they compete for the mantle of the revolution that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“The race for the coalitions has begun,” read the headline of the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.
On Sunday, share prices on the Egypt Exchange declined 3.49 percent with the main EGX-30 index slipping to 4,789.14 points.
“The first results of the presidential election have added to the political nervousness and uncertainty for the future,” financial analyst Mostafa Saad told AFP.
The Brotherhood called a meeting of various candidates on Saturday afternoon, but the campaigns of Abul Fotouh, former foreign minister Amr Mussa and Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi said the three would not attend.
According to a tally by the Islamist group, Mursi had won 25.3 percent of the vote and Shafiq 24 percent, with Sabbahi at 22 percent.
Sabbahi said he would refuse any offer to become vice president, and told AFP he would file a complaint over electoral irregularities that may affect the result of the first round.
On Saturday, Mursi appealed to Egyptians to pursue the goals of the revolution, a day after his movement said the nation was “in danger.”
He said he was confident the results of the June 16-17 runoff “will serve the revolution and the interests of the Egyptian people.”
He also sought to reassure secularists and the country’s Coptic Christian community which makes up around 10 percent of the 82 million population.
“As president, I will be the president for all Egyptians. (My relationship) with the Brotherhood will be the same as all Egyptians,” he said.
On Friday night, the Brotherhood said it was seeking to create a coalition of forces to challenge Shafiq.
“We call on all sincere political and national forces to unite to protect the revolution and to achieve the pledges we took before our great nation,” it said.
Shafiq also called for broad support from former rivals, calling on his competitors by name to join him and promising there would be no return to the old regime.
“I reach out to all the partners and I pledge that we would all work together for the good of Egypt,” he told a news conference.
Addressing young people who spearheaded the 2011 revolt, he said: “Your revolution has been hijacked and I am committed to bringing (it) back.
“I pledge now, to all Egyptians, we shall start a new era. There is no going back.”
As the top two candidates worked to rally support for the runoff, leftist candidate Sabbahi, who came third, said he was to file a complaint over alleged voting irregularities in the first round.
“We will file appeals and we will then determine whether or not we accept the results,” Sabbahi said.
A Shafiq-Mursi runoff looks likely to further polarise a nation that rose up against the authoritarian Mubarak 15 months ago but has since suffered endemic violence and a declining economy.
The contest presents a difficult choice for activists who led the revolt against Mubarak. For them, choosing Shafiq would be to admit the revolution had failed, but a vote for Mursi could threaten the very freedoms they fought for.
Many who voted in the first round “will not know who to vote for in the runoff. Some will not vote at all, because they believe that morally they can’t support Shafiq or Mursi,” writer Khaled al-Khamissi told AFP.
On Saturday, former US president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre monitored the elections, told journalists that the process had been “encouraging” but noted that he and his monitors had faced unprecedented constraints.
“I would say that these (elections) have been encouraging to me,” he said, adding that authorities had imposed “constraints placed on us as witnesses that have never been placed on us before.”
He said minor “haphazard” violations had been observed, but there did not appear to be systematic irregularities that favoured any one candidate.
The election follows a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed free parliamentary elections.
Mubarak faces a verdict on June 2 to determine whether or not he was involved in killings of protesters during the 18-day revolt.
On Sunday, his longtime chief of staff, Zakaria Azmi, was sentenced to seven years in jail on corruption charges.