Incumbent Hosni Mubarak was officially declared the winner of Egypt's first contested presidential elections on Friday — but the vote was marred by allegations of fraud and a lower than expected turnout of 23 percent.
The low participation reflected widespread skepticism among Egyptians over the government's claims that the election opens the door to greater democratic reform — and apathy over a vote that Mubarak was certain to win.
Before Wednesday's election, officials in Mubarak's ruling party said they hoped at least 30 percent of the 32 million registered voters would cast ballots.
The 77-year-old Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 24 years, won a new six-year term with 88.571 percent of the vote, the head of the elections commission, Mahmoud Marie, told reporters.
Ayman Nour of the opposition Al-Ghad party was second with 7.3 percent of the vote, followed by the other main opposition candidate Noaman Gomaa of the Wafd Party with 2.8 percent.
The election was the first-ever in which Mubarak faced a competitor after years of being re-elected as the sole candidate in "yes-no" referendums.
Mubarak had been expected to win the election by a wide margin. But as a candidate he promised further change and his government insisted the important thing was the process, saying the election heralded more reforms in this key U.S. ally, which has seen only autocratic rule for 50 years.
Opponents were skeptical, with most major parties boycotting the election.
No violence, vote rigging
Widespread violations were reported by voters, opposition groups and independent monitors during the balloting — particularly strong pressure from officials and other on voters to back Mubarak. But the election saw none of the violence or overt vote rigging that has plagued past parliamentary elections.
Marie, the top judge on Egypt's highest court, said the vote was clean and allegations of violations stemmed from "over-enthusiasm in a nascent experiment that will be the cornerstone in the construction of democracy."
On Thursday, Nour demanded the election be repeated because of the allegations, but the commission — which reform-minded judges have accused of being dominated by the government — rejected the request.
Third-place finisher Gomaa said Friday his party would put together a list of the election violations it witnessed and present them to the commission. But, speaking to Al-Jazeera television, he acknowledged that the violations were not enough to affect Mubarak's victory.
His party's newspaper, Al-Wafd, highlighted alleged irregularities that marred the vote but still hailed the vote as the birth of democracy in Egypt.
"The people have woken up and they are not going to go back to sleep," a lead editorial in the paper said.
A new era
Pro-government newspapers on Friday trumpeted Mubarak's victory as opening a new era of reform.
"History will dedicate pages to Mubarak," gushed Al-Ahram's editor, Osama Saraya, in a frontpage column.
In Lebanon, the editor of the left-wing newspaper As-Safir said the polls were "more than a referendum, but less than an election."
"There is no way to deny the importance of the event," said As-Safir editor-in-chief Joseph Samaha. But he said the election was marred by "the bias of the state apparatus, the unfairness of the election commission, rigging and mistakes."