The historic presidential election is being contested by candidates with both Islamist and secularist leanings who have promised radically different futures for the country. A total of 13 contenders are in the fray but the race boils down to five major names. Two figures of the former regime --former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, are up against two Islamists -- Mohamad Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Brotherhood-defect Abd-al-Munim Abul Futtuh, and leftist front-runner Hamadin Sabahi.
If no candidate gets an absolute majority, the top two vote-getters would compete in a run-off on June 16 and 17. The winner of the run-off would become Egypt's first post-Mubarak era president and will take office before July 1.
The elections are being conducted under full judicial supervision and international monitors have arrived to observe the transparency of the process. People had been queuing up in front of polling stations since 6.00 am, two hours before the poll was expected to open.
"I am a sick man but came early to vote because I don't want my country to be stolen anymore. I don't want the revolution to be stolen anymore. I trust in these elections because I believe in the people of my country," said a voter, standing outside the polling station.
Another man added: "I trust these elections will be transparent because every citizen is keen on casting his vote. If someone does not vote then, he has done his country wrong. People will accept the results." A third voter said: "The election is a result of the revolution. There is no way one person will monopolise the power again. Tahrir has become a symbol. The entire country is now Tahrir." For several Egyptians, this historic exercise which would mark an end to autocratic rule once and for all.
The polling stations will open for 12 hours on Wednesday and another 12 hours on Thursday and the results are expected on May 29. Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri has declared a day off for the government employees during the election. The Cabinet met on Wednesday to discuss the monitoring of the presidential election. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid has also formed an operations room for the purpose. "People can call 19303 about any problem," he said.
Ganzouri asked citizens to participate in the election as "their duty" and urged them to accept the decision of the majority. "I hope the election would pass peacefully. And I call on all political forces to accept the result," he said. Political, revolutionary forces and trade unions have also formed monitoring centres while the Judges for Egypt Movement has deployed 350 judges and 1,500 observers to monitor the process. Also, 9,457 observers from 53 various human rights groups accredited by the Presidential Elections Commission would be present at the polling stations.
The Carter Centre has allowed 22 international observers from 14 countries to observe the campaigning, the voting and counting. Former US President Jimmy Carter met with Ganzouri on Tuesday to discuss the democratisation process in Egypt.