Three top candidates in Egypt's presidential race have filed appeals to the election commission, alleging violations in the first round vote that they say could change the outcome.
The appeals, alleging fraud, were filed ahead of a Sunday deadline. They are likely to enflame an already explosive race, with two of the most polarizing candidates finishing first.
Preliminary results from last week's election placed Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, as the two candidates entering a June 16-17 run-off. Thirteen candidates were on the ballot.
Young, liberal secularists who led the popular rebellion that overthrew longtime leader Hosni Mubarak last year failed to place a candidate in the run-off.
Divided vote among revolution supporters
A large portion of the vote — more than 40 per cent — went to candidates who were seen as more in the spirit of the uprising — neither for the Brotherhood nor for the so-called "feloul," or "remnants" of the old autocratic regime. The so-called revolutionary votes were mostly divided among the candidates who placed third and fourth.
The top finisher, the Brotherhood's Morsi, received only about 25 per cent of the vote, according to preliminary results. Influential Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, widely respected throughout the Middle East, urged voters to support Morsi in the run-off.
Speaking on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera Sunday evening, he said the race is not between an Islamist and a non-Islamist, but between "the revolution and the enemies of the revolution."
Shafiq, who placed second after Morsi, filed an appeal to the election commission, saying votes cast for him in one province were not included in the ballot count.
Hamdeen Sabahi, a socialist and a champion of the poor who made a surprisingly strong showing, called for a partial vote recount after he placed third by a margin of around 700,000 votes after Shafiq.
Sabahi's campaign said in a statement Sunday that its representatives met with the elections commission to request that official results not be announced until the eligibility of voters in five provinces is reviewed.
Official results awaited
Official first-round results are expected Monday or Tuesday.
"The difference between votes for us and votes cast for some of the other candidates is that ours are legitimate," Sabahi told reporters Saturday.
Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a moderate Islamist who finished fourth, filed his appeal Sunday and also called for official results to be delayed. His lawyer said the campaign has proof that votes were cast on behalf of dead people, and in other cases, bribes were paid for votes.
Overall, the presidential election was considered the country's freest and most transparent in decades. Judges were present at each polling station. International and local monitors, as well as journalists and the candidates' representatives, were allowed to oversee the process in stark contrast to elections under Mubarak.
On Saturday, ex-president Jimmy Carter said his centre was restricted in its monitoring mission, but the process was generally acceptable.
The Carter Center said in its report that election authorities prohibited access to media, candidate agents and local and international observers to the final aggregation of national results, "undermining the overall transparency of the process." The prestigious group also warned it would not monitor elections in Egypt again if the elections commission does not lift a 30-minute observation limit inside polling stations. This restriction, however, was not universally applied.
The centre noted that the election "overshadows other crises," including the fact that the powers of the incoming president are not yet defined.
Constitutional reform remains ahead
The writing of a new constitution, which would determine the roles of the president and parliament, was put on hold after liberals walked out of the Islamist-packed committee tasked with the drafting.
A top reform leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, wrote Sunday on his Twitter account, "Our battle is for the constitution, not the president."
Also Sunday, a criminal court convicted Mubarak's former chief of staff of corruption, sentencing him to seven years in prison and fining him $6 million, Egypt's official news agency reported.
Zakaria Azmi, who was also a lawmaker and a senior member of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, used his position to make illicit gains of $7 million, according to the court ruling carried by Egypt's official Middle East News Agency.
The verdict against Azmi comes less than a week before a court is due to issue its verdict in the trial of Mubarak, who faces charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the popular uprising last year. Mubarak, along with Gamal and his other son, Alaa, also faced corruption charges.
Mubarak could receive the death penalty if convicted in the killing of protesters.