CAIRO // Turnout in the opening phase of Egypt's first post-revolution election was 62 per cent, the highest ever in the country, the election commission chief said yesterday.
"It's the highest turnout in the history of Egypt," said Abdel Moez Ibrahim, adding that 8.5 million people had cast their ballots.
The figure for voting on Monday and Tuesday in a third of the country's provinces was lower than an estimate from Egypt's ruling military leadership of 70 per cent given earlier this week.
Under the highly complex system being used, voters were required to pass three votes: two for individual candidates and one for a party.
Mr Ibrahim gave a number of results for the individual contests, the vast majority of which will go into a run-off next week because no candidate gained an outright majority.
As he began to announce the party results, Mr Ibrahim brought the press conference to an abrupt end.
"I have no more energy, I've run out of gas," he said, before instructing reporters to look through the voluminous results which he said would be made available.
The turnout was far higher than the 40 per cent seen for a referendum on a constitutional amendment held in March.
Islamists were expected to sweep the election, with the moderate Muslim Brotherhood claiming it won 40 per cent. Yesterday, a spokesman for Egypt's ultraconservative Salafi party, Nour, said it plans to push for a stricter religious code in Egypt after claiming surprisingly strong gains. The Nour party expects to get 30 per cent of the vote, the spokesman Yousseri Hamad said. Their party appeared to lead the polls in the Nile Delta province of Kafr El Sheikh, in the rural area of Fayoum and in parts of their longtime stronghold, Alexandria. Mr Hamad said his party was willing to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood as well as with secular and liberal forces "if it will serve the interest of the nation".
Still, he spoke confidently about their ambition to turn Egypt into a state governed by Sharia.
"In the land of Islam, I can't let people decide what is permissible or what is prohibited. It's God who gives the answers as to what is right and what is wrong," Mr Hamad said. "If God tells me you can drink whatever you want except for alcohol, you don't leave the million things permitted and ask about the prohibited."
The Salafis strong showing worried many liberals and Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's population.
"We want democracy and what they want is anything but democratic," said Amir Fouad, a Coptic Christian.
* With additional reporting by Associated Press