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Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s main Islamist group claimed an early lead as officials count ballots from parliamentary elections that offer the first test of the parties competing to run the country after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Mohammed El-Beltagy, an official at the Freedom and Justice Party set up by the Brotherhood, said the party may have won at least 40 percent of votes counted so far. He didn’t say where he got the information. The first of three stages of parliamentary voting, lasting two days and covering about one-third of the country, ended yesterday with officials and rights groups citing a higher-than-expected turnout and little violence.
“These are the first real elections that Egypt has witnessed” in decades, said Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. “The most important thing is for this to be a free vote, regardless of who wins, as this will reflect the will of the people.”
The run-up to the election was marred by a week of clashes between security forces and protesters that left 43 people dead. Demonstrators accuse the ruling generals of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive an economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a decade.
Initial results from the regions that voted this week are due today. Balloting in Egypt’s 18 remaining provinces will take place in two further rounds, with final results due by Jan. 13.
The benchmark stock index extended gains today after surging the most in almost two years as investors welcomed the largely peaceful vote. Yields in the nation’s first sale of dollar-denominated treasury bills yesterday were lower than expected as the government raised $1.53 billion.
In most constituencies, more than half of the votes have been counted, El-Beltagy said in a phone interview today. The Freedom and Justice Party said in an e-mailed statement that it is leading the count, followed by the Salafi Nour Party, a more conservative Islamic group, and then the secular Egyptian Bloc.
Late yesterday, state television showed election workers opening the seals on ballot boxes, emptying them and unfolding vote slips.
Protests demanding an end to army rule continued throughout the voting. Yesterday, at least 79 people were wounded, according to the state-run Mena news agency, when fighting broke out between street vendors and demonstrators maintaining a vigil after dark in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. At night, “thugs” stormed some polling stations in Cairo, the agency said.
‘Down With Military!’
The army says it won’t cede power before presidential elections due by the end of June.
As polling stations closed, protesters staged a sit-in outside the Cabinet building in central Cairo, banging on drums and chanting “Down with military rule!”
“We will continue to protest until we’re sure that the military council is no longer ruling this country,” said Yamen Hazem, 28. “I don’t agree with holding a vote under a government that has no powers. No one can guarantee that there’s no rigging.”
The enthusiasm for voting suggests a disconnect between the protesters and most Egyptians, said David Hartwell, an analyst at London-based forecaster IHS Global Insight. Many, “although unhappy with the way the military have so far handled the transition, see the elections as a major first step toward the political reconstitution of the country,” he said in e-mailed comments.
The EGX 30 stock index added 0.7 percent at midday in Cairo after jumping 5.5 percent yesterday as the high turnout and absence of violence boosted expectations that the vote will help ease tensions and smooth the transition to democratic rule. The government sold one-year dollar notes to yield 3.87 percent, compared with the 5.25 percent median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of seven analysts.
Still, the EGX 30 is down 44 percent this year, and the yield on dollar bonds due April 2020 jumped to 7.02 percent today, the highest since January, as the unrest hurts Egypt’s economy. Tourists have shunned the country and industrial production has been hit by strikes. Gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade.
The Muslim Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, was founded in 1928 and its experience, organizational skills, support networks and name-recognition have given it an edge over the secular youth who were at the forefront of the leaderless anti- Mubarak revolt. Islamist groups have already won elections in Morocco and Tunisia, where the region’s wave of uprisings began a year ago.
--With assistance from Digby Lidstone and Ahmed A Namatalla in Cairo and Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland.
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