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Islamists poised to consolidate in Egyptian polls

Millions headed to polling booths today to decide the future of nine governorates, in the first landmark elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

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Islamists are poised to further consolidate their overwhelming lead in the second phase of Egyptian parliamentary polls, as millions headed to polling booths today to decide the future of nine governorates, in the first landmark elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Voting has been relatively peaceful, with no major irregularities reported.

Egypt's moderate Islamists -- the Muslim Brotherhood --emerged as the largest force in the first round of elections with their Freedom and Justice Party winning 36 per cent of the popular vote. But the surprise showing came from the radical Salafist al Nour party that grabbed almost 25 per cent of the vote.

Islamists are set to consolidate their gains this week, with polling taking place in more rural and conservative areas, the BBC reported. But unlike the previous phase, almost all polling stations opened on time, according to the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections.

State television did report, however, that that one polling station in Giza was closed for three hours after a shoot-out between rival candidates. No-one was killed, while seven people were detained by security forces.

About 18 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in two days of polls and a run-off being held a week later.

"We will not rule Egypt alone. Parliament will include all the colours of the rainbow that must agree on one direction, one goal," the Muslim Brotherhood's General Guide, Mohammed Badie, said as he sought to reassure voters that the Islamic party wanted to form a broad coalition.

Islamist candidates are expected to build on their earlier gains, with the ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour Party forecast to do particularly well in the conservative areas, the BBC said. Al-Nour won 24.4 per cent in the first round's party-list vote and five individual seats.

The Egyptian liberal parties managed roughly 30 per cent of the vote together. While the first round laid out a trend, the second round would decide how the future political landscape of Egypt would look like.

While the Brotherhood has tried hard to press itself as a moderate force that will not impose Islamic laws on Egypt, the radicals have made no bones of their hardline agenda.

The developments have left Egypt's minority Christians and secular liberals worried over their future in the country.

Some are hoping the second round of polls might tilt the balance towards the liberal Egyptian bloc.

After a dismal showing in the first round, the Egypt bloc has coordinated with the "revolution continues", a coalition of Leftist and revolutionaries parties. The coordination resulted in a unified list of independent candidates for all constituencies that poll today.

Several young activists associated with Egypt's January 25 Revolution will feature on the coalition's ticket, including Khaled Talima, Mohamed El-Kassas and Islam Lotfi.

The liberal electoral coalition includes the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the liberal Free Egyptians party and the leftist Tagammu Party and will compete for 30 per cent of the seats reserved for independent candidates in the second stage.

The second round is covering nine of Egypt's 27 governorates, including Giza, Beni Sueif, Sohag, Aswan, Menoufiya, Sharqiya, Beheira, Ismailia and Suez. Run-off elections are slated for 21 and 22 December.

The run up to the second round of elections has not been as quiet as the first round.

In Sinai, the nephew of a female candidates of the Egyptian bloc was allegedly kidnapped to pressure the nominee to step down, though she has not. Violent incidents like opening of fire on rallies were also reported from some parts.

Security was beefed up once again with the new minister of interior vowed to tune preparations.

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