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presidential elections

Left-wing rebel Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s victory in a tight presidential run-off election has been confirmed by El Salvador’s electoral court.

The electoral court said Salvador Sanchez Ceren won 50.11% of the votes in the March 9 poll, defeating conservative candidate Norman Quijano, who polled 49.89%.

Norman Quijano had challenged the result, alleging fraud.

The court’s decision makes Salvador Sanchez Ceren the country’s first ex-rebel to serve as president.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren won 50.11 percent of the votes in the March 9 presidential poll

Salvador Sanchez Ceren won 50.11 percent of the votes in the March 9 presidential poll (photo Reuters)

On Sunday, the court said that there was not enough evidence to back Norman Quijano’s claim.

“Based on the results, Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Oscar Samuel Ortiz are declared president and vice-president elect respectively, for the period from 1 June 2014 to 1 June 2019,” court president Eugenio Chicas was quoted as saying by Reuters.

El Salvador’s outgoing President Mauricio Funes said he would meet Salvador Sanchez Ceren later on Monday to begin the handover process.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren became vice-president of El Salvador in 2009, while Norman Quijano was the mayor of the capital, San Salvador.

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Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has confirmed that he will stand in presidential elections on April 14.

In a televised address, Henrique Capriles accused the governing PSUV party of manipulating the recent death of President Hugo Chavez.

Hugo Chavez died on March 5 after a two-year battle against cancer.

Henrique Capriles will stand against Acting President Nicolas Maduro, whom Hugo Chavez named as his favored successor.

Nicolas Maduro went on state television minutes after the opposition leader’s appearance, accusing him of being a “fascist”.

Correspondents say the stage is now set for a bitter presidential campaign.

The opposition boycotted Nicolas Maduro’s swearing-in on Friday, claiming that – under the constitution – the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should be the one to take over as acting president.

Henrique Capriles – candidate for the umbrella opposition group Table for Democratic Unity (MUD) – called the move fraudulent.

On Sunday, he again accused the socialist PSUV of violating the constitution.

“My fight is not to be president, my fight is for Venezuela to move forward,” he said.

“You [the PSUV] are the ones who became sick by power. You fear losing it.”

Henrique Capriles added: “I am going to fight. Nicolas, I am not going to give you a free pass. You will have to beat me with votes.”

Henrique Capriles, 40, is a lawyer by training and governor of the state of Miranda. He describes his policies as “centrist” and “humanist”.

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has confirmed that he will stand in presidential elections on April 14

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has confirmed that he will stand in presidential elections on April 14

In his televised address on Sunday, Nicolas Maduro accused Henrique Capriles of inciting hatred, and said he was trying to provoke violence by insulting the late president’s image.

“You have made the biggest mistake of your life,” he said.

Nicolas Maduro announced that he would ask the national assembly to change the constitution on Tuesday to allow Hugo Chavez’s body to lie beside that of 19th Century South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar.

Both Nicolas Maduro and his opposition rival must register their candidacies by Monday.

Hugo Chavez – who led Venezuela for 14 years – won last October’s election against Henrique Capriles, polling 54% of the vote to Capriles’s 44%.

Hugo Chavez named his 50-year-old vice-president and foreign minister as his preferred successor following the recurrence of cancer.

Nicolas Maduro’s friendship with Hugo Chavez dates back to when the former president served time in prison for an attempted coup in 1992.

The former bus driver campaigned for Hugo Chavez to be released – which happened two years later.

He has vowed to carry on where the late leader left off but acknowledged that Hugo Chavez would be difficult to follow.

Nicolas Maduro told a crowd on Saturday: “I am not Chavez – speaking in terms of the intelligence, charisma, historical force, leadership capacity and spiritual grandeur of our comandante [commander].”

Hugo Chavez’s body is still lying in state at a military academy in the capital Caracas. Millions of Venezuelans have filed past to pay their respects.

Nicolas Maduro says the former leader’s body will be embalmed “like Lenin and Mao Zedong”.

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Presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye, the daughter of South Korea’s former leader Park Chung-hee, has apologized for human rights violations committed during her father’s rule.

Park Geun-hye is the ruling party candidate for presidential elections in December.

Park Chung-hee seized power in a military coup in 1961 and ruled until he was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979.

He boosted the economy but was accused of ruthlessly crushing dissent, delaying democratic development.

Park Geun-hye is the ruling party candidate for the South Korean presidential elections in December

Park Geun-hye is the ruling party candidate for the South Korean presidential elections in December

Park Geun-hye, 60, secured the ruling party nomination for the polls last month, marking the first time a woman has been chosen as a presidential candidate by one of South Korea’s main political parties.

But she has been battling her father’s legacy since the very beginning of her presidential campaign.

Park Chung-hee is credited with kick-starting South Korea’s economic success, but many younger and liberal voters see his human rights record as a blot on the country’s history.

Addressing a news conference, Park Geun-hye said her father had prioritized economic growth and national security issues.

“Behind the stellar growth were sacrifices by workers who suffered under a repressive labor environment,” she said.

“Behind the efforts for national security to protect [ourselves] from North Korea were human rights abuses committed by state power.”

Offering sincere apologies, she said: “I believe that it is an unchanging value of democracy that ends cannot justify the means in politics.”

Park Geun-hye remains ahead in opinion polls for the 19 December election.

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Mitt Romney has accused his rival President Barack Obama of running a campaign built on “anger and divisiveness”.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the Democratic campaign had hit a “new low” by trying to link him to controversial views on rape recently voiced by another Republican, Todd Akin.

The Obama camp has accused Mitt Romney of extreme positions on social issues.

The Republicans are due this week to nominate Mitt Romney as their candidate in November’s presidential elections.

Mitt Romney has accused his rival President Barack Obama of running a campaign built on "anger and divisiveness"

Mitt Romney has accused his rival President Barack Obama of running a campaign built on "anger and divisiveness"

The party has been forced to delay by a day – until Tuesday – the start of its national convention in the Florida city of Tampa because of the approaching Tropical Storm Isaac.

“I would suggest that that’s a campaign of anger and divisiveness,” Mitt Romney said, referring to Barack Obama’s campaign in Sunday’s interview with US TV channel Fox News.

“That’s the kind of divisiveness that I think Americans recognize and I think it’s one of the reasons why his campaign, despite spending massively more than our campaign, that his campaign hasn’t gained the traction that he would have expected.”

Mitt Romney said the Democrats were now seeking to tie him to the remarks by embattled congressman Todd Akin, who sparked uproar by claiming women’s bodies could prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape”.

He described the remarks as “offensive and wrong”, urging the Missouri congressman to withdraw his candidacy for the Senate.

However, he admitted in Sunday’s interview that the controversy over the remarks “hurts our party and I think is damaging to women”.

Many voters do not yet feel they know Mitt Romney, and he will seek to boost his image at the Republican national convention in Tampa.

 

A model which has foretold the correct results of the Electoral College selections in U.S. Presidential elections since 1980, has predicted a loss for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

The forecast was made by two professors at the University of Colorado who used economic data and unemployment figures from each state to predict a Republican win come November.

Political science professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry’s study predicts 218 electoral votes for Barack Obama and 320 for Mitt Romney with the Republican candidate winning every seat currently considered to be on the fence.

The prediction model uses economic data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including income per capita and both state and national unemployment figures.

The research concluded that U.S. voters blame Democrats for high unemployment rates but hold Republicans more responsible for low per capita income.

It also showed that the advantage of holding the White House disappears for Democratic candidates when the national unemployment rate hits 5.6%.

“Based on our forecasting model, it becomes clear that the president is in electoral trouble,” Prof. Kenneth Bickers said.

The professors’ analysis concluded that Mitt Romney would take home all swing states including Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Colorado.

Political science professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry’s study predicts 218 electoral votes for Barack Obama and 320 for Mitt Romney with the Republican candidate winning every seat currently considered to be on the fence

Political science professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry’s study predicts 218 electoral votes for Barack Obama and 320 for Mitt Romney with the Republican candidate winning every seat currently considered to be on the fence

Colorado voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but the current president is predicted a marginal loss at 48.1% against Mitt Romney’s 51.9%, although with the caveat that only the two major parties were considered.

Although the economy has improved under Barack Obama, Prof. Michael Berry said in a statement that it remains to be seen whether voters will consider the economy in relative or absolute terms.

“If it’s the former, the president may receive credit for the economy’s trajectory and win a second term. In the latter case, Romney should pick up a number of states Obama won in 2008,” Prof. Michael Berry said.

Although the model devised by Prof. Michael Berry and Prof. Kenneth Bickers has predicted the correct results of eight consecutive presidential elections, the data used for analysis was collected in June.

An update with figures from September is due next month which the team said could have a completely different outcome.

The results of the model’s calculations are in stark contrast to current polling data. The New York Times’ latest figures for the Electoral College selections forecasts a blue win with 282.6 electoral votes for Barack Obama and 255.4 for Mitt Romney.

Although the figure is well above the 270 electoral votes President Barack Obama needs to hold on to his presidency, it is a decrease by 12.8 seats since the last figures on August 15.

While the race remains a dead heat, a new AP/GfK poll out today says that most Americans expect Barack Obama to retain the presidency.

Overall, registered voters are about evenly split, with 47% saying they plan to back Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and 46% favoring Mitt Romney and Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

About one in four voters say they are undecided or could change their minds between now and November 6.

The contours of the race are little changed from June, when an AP-GfK survey showed 47% of voters backing Barack Obama and 44% siding with Mitt Romney, suggesting Romney’s decision earlier in August to tap Paul Ryan as his running mate was not the game-changing event he may have desired.

Both campaigns have been competing fiercely for a small sweet spot in the middle of the electorate: Independent voters who say they don’t lean toward either party.

Mitt Romney holds a narrow lead among that group with 41%, compared to 30% for Barack Obama.

But few think the Romney-Ryan ticket will win in the end.

Asked to predict the race’s outcome, 58% of adults say they expect Barack Obama to be re-elected, whereas just 32% say he will be voted out of office.

Even among those who say they have a great deal of interest in following the campaigns’ bitter back and forth, a majority expect Barack Obama to win.

Partisans generally expect their own candidate to win, though Republicans are less sure about Mitt Romney than Democrats are about Barack Obama – 83% of Democrats say Barack Obama will be re-elected while 57% of Republicans think he’ll be voted out of office.

Among those Republicans who think Barack Obama may pull out a victory is Catherine Shappard, a 78-year-old from Dallas.

Catherine Shappard said all of her friends agree that Mitt Romney would be a better president, yet she’s alarmed to hear even conservative commenters say Barack Obama has a good shot at re-election.

“I think it’s close,” Catherine Shappard said.

“A lot closer than I’d like it to be.”

The perception that Barack Obama has the advantage could cut both ways.

On the one hand, people like to vote for a winner, so if voters think Barack Obama will win, they may be more inclined to cast their lot with him.

On the other hand, it could backfire for Barack Obama and help Mitt Romney if it drives down turnout among Democrats.

If Barack Obama’s supporters think the race is in the bag and their vote isn’t necessary, they may stay home.

But if, like Catherine Shappard, voters suspect the race is close, they’ll be more likely to cast a ballot, said Patrick Murray, a political analyst at Monmouth University.

“It’s less important who people think will win than if they think it’s a close race,” said Patrick Murray.

After just over one week on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney’s running mate remains unknown to about a quarter of voters.

Paul Ryan is viewed favorably by 40% of registered voters, while 34% see him unfavorably.

Barack Obama’s running mate and current Vice President Joe Biden, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for a string of gaffes he made during campaign stops.

On August 14, Joe Biden told a Danville, Virginia, audience that included hundreds of black people: “[Romney] said in the first 100 days he’s going to let the big banks write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”

Less than 24 hours later, Joe Biden appeared to be off by 100 years when he asked another Virginia crowd: “Folks, where’s it written we cannot lead the world in the 20th century in making automobiles?”

While Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy has been to hammer at Barack Obama on job creation and his fiscal policy, Obama has been going demographic by demographic in an effort to woo voters.

The president has alternately tailored his campaign speeches and his ad campaigns to women, older voters and, most recently, new young voters who may not have been old enough to cast a ballot four years ago.

In each case, Barack Obama has used Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as foils, arguing that their policies would limit women’s health care choices, force seniors to pay more for Medicare and cut back on student loans.

Barack Obama’s appeal to female voters got an unexpected boost by the eruption of dismay over Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks about rape and abortion, prompting an unexpected debate on that social issue.

The president’s campaign also enlisted the help of former President Bill Clinton with a TV ad blitz on the economy.

In the ad, Bill Clinton speaks directly to the camera and says voters face a “clear choice” over which candidate will return the nation to full employment.

“We need to keep going with his plan,” Bill Clinton says of Barack Obama in the ad, which will run in eight battleground states.

 

Barack Obama campaign has said if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney releases five years of tax returns, they will drop the issue.

Mitt Romney, who has made public his 2010 taxes and plans to do the same with his 2011 returns, rejected the offer.

The former private equity chief said on Thursday he had never paid under 13% in taxes over the past 10 years, a much smaller rate than most US wage-earners.

Mitt Romney will challenge President Barack Obama in November’s election.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina made the tax-returns offer to his counterpart, Matt Rhoades, in a letter on Friday.

Barack Obama campaign has said if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney releases five years of tax returns, they will drop the issue

Barack Obama campaign has said if Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney releases five years of tax returns, they will drop the issue

“Governor Romney apparently fears that the more he offers, the more our campaign will demand that he provide,” Jim Messina wrote.

“So I am prepared to provide assurances on just that point. If the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more – neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign.”

Releasing several years of tax returns has become a standard move in recent presidential elections.

And Jim Messina noted that the Republican candidate’s father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, had released 12 years of his tax returns during his own unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1968.

Matt Rhoades rejected the offer in an email that began: “Hey Jim, thanks for the note.

“It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.

“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days.”

The candidate’s wife, Ann Romney, reiterated that they were “hiding nothing” in an interview with NBC News on Thursday.

“We have been very transparent to what’s legally required of us,” Ann Romney said.

“There’s going to be no more tax releases given.”

She added that releasing more information would only give their Democratic opponents more “ammunition”.

Mitt Romney has said he is following the example of Republican Senator John McCain, who released two years of returns in 2008 when running against Barack Obama.

He has said his critics would only distort his tax information if he divulged more.

Democrats have repeatedly questioned whether the former Massachusetts governor has something to hide about his estimated net worth of about $250 million.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has accused Mitt Romney of not paying taxes in some years – a claim denied by the Republican.

The top tax rate for wages in America is 35%, but taxes on capital gains are lower.

Some 44% of Americans believe that raising taxes on the wealthiest would help the economy, according to a Pew Research Center Poll last month. Just 22% said they believed the opposite.

The same poll suggested that Americans believed two to one that Barack Obama’s tax proposals would make the tax system more fair.

 

Clint Eastwood has endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in the race for the White House.

Oscar-winning actor and director Clint Eastwood attended a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Sun Valley, Idaho, said to have raised over $2 million.

Clint Eastwood said he was endorsing the Republican because “the country needs a boost somewhere”.

In February Clint Eastwood starred in a Chrysler Superbowl advert, Halftime in America, sparking debate over whether he backed President Barack Obama.

Clint Eastwood has endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in the race for the White House

Clint Eastwood has endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in the race for the White House

At the time, Clint Eastwood had said he was not endorsing either candidate and, speaking to Fox News, said he was “certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama”.

“It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America,” Clint Eastwood said in February of the Super Bowl advert.

“I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any candidate at this time.”

On Friday Mitt Romney said of Clint Eastwood’s endorsement: “He just made my day. What a guy.”

After an introduction from Mitt Romney, Clint Eastwood spoke to about 325 guests gathered for the Idaho fundraiser.

Clint Eastwood said he first saw Mitt Romney when he was running for governor of Massachusetts, and Eastwood was directing the film Mystic River in Boston.

The actor said he thought: “God, this guy, he’s too handsome to be governor. But it does look like he could be president.”

Backing Mitt Romney, Clint Eastwood added that Romney would “restore a decent tax system… so there’s a fairness and people are not pitted against each other,” according to reports from Idaho.

Mitt Romney is challenging Barack Obama for the White House in November’s presidential elections.

Also on Friday figures showed that the US added 163,000 jobs in the month of July, but national unemployment rose to 8.3% from 8.2%.

Correspondents say the health of the US economy is likely to become a decisive factor in the outcome of the election.

 

Mitt Romney and the Republicans raised a combined $100 million in June, laying down the gauntlet to a Barack Obama campaign that is scrambling to keep pace.

The figure excludes the millions raised by groups that support the Republican presidential candidate.

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have not yet released their fundraising results for June.

Barack Obama spent the day in Ohio as he launched the first bus tour of his campaign for re-election in November.

In May, the Romney campaign out-fundraised its rival, attracting $77 million against the Obama team’s $60 million.

Barack Obama has been warning supporters that he is in danger of becoming the first sitting president in history to be outspent by his opponent.

Mitt Romney and the Republicans raised a combined $100 million in June

Mitt Romney and the Republicans raised a combined $100 million in June

According to Mitt Romney’s campaign aides, much of the money raised in June came from new donors, Politico reported.

Several states, including the key battlegrounds of Colorado, Michigan and Ohio, exceeded their fundraising goals, they added.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama pitched a positive message on Ohio’s economic recovery and the comeback of the state’s car industry.

Ohio’s unemployment rate of 7.3% compares with a national average of 8.2%.

Ohio is a key battleground in presidential elections – no Republican has ever won the White House without capturing it.

A Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio voters last week had Barack Obama leading his rival by 47% to 38% in the state. Earlier, the Obama campaign had run a barrage of attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record.

“I’m betting you’re not going to lose interest,” Barack Obama told voters in Maumee, Ohio.

“I’m betting you’re not going to lose heart. I still believe in you, I’m betting on you.”

The president also touched on his landmark healthcare reform act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court last week.

“It is going to make the vast majority of Americans more secure,” he told supporters. Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the law if he wins office.

On Friday, Barack Obama will finish his bus tour with appearances in Poland, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said the president had “no new answers” for the economy.

Despite its fundraising bonanza, correspondents say the Romney campaign has struggled recently to gain the initiative.

His team was seen as having been put on the back foot by the president’s order last month halting deportations for children of illegal immigrants.

The Romney camp also delivered conflicting responses to Supreme Court ruling last week on healthcare.

And there were negative headlines this week over a Vanity Fair investigation reporting that much of Mitt Romney’s personal fortune was hidden in a network of opaque offshore investment havens.

Conservative concerns over the former private equity chief’s campaign were vented in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

It accused Mitt Romney’s staff of “slowly squandering an historic opportunity”. The newspaper is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who called for a Romney campaign shake-up, in a tweet earlier this week.

Meanwhile, pictures of Mitt Romney on holiday with his family this week in New Hampshire prompted conservative radio talk host Laura Ingraham to tell listeners:

“There’s no week to spare, we have a country to save.”

With the economy such a major issue in the coming election, both campaigns will be eagerly awaiting figures due on Friday showing if there was any rise in hiring by US employers during June.

 

Egypt’s presidential poll results have been delayed by the election authorities, raising further tension across the country.

The results had been due to be announced on Thursday, but the election commission said it needed more time to look into complaints presented by the candidates.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi and former PM Ahmed Shafiq both claim they won last weekend’s vote.

Thousands of opposition supporters are protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

They have gathered to demonstrate against the delay in announcing the poll result and also against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – the military council that has led the country since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.

The Muslim Brotherhood called people into the square to voice their outrage over recent constitutional amendments which gave the SCAF sweeping political and legislative powers.

If the Muslim Brotherhood has won the election, there are doubts over whether the authorities would allow them to take power after fighting them for so many decades.

There is increasingly fevered speculation about whether the election will be cancelled or rigged, he adds.

Egypt's presidential poll results have been delayed by the election authorities, raising further tension across the country

Egypt's presidential poll results have been delayed by the election authorities, raising further tension across the country

Meanwhile, 84-year-old Hosni Mubarak remains in critical condition at an army hospital in Cairo.

He is said to have had a series of strokes and to be on a life-support machine, but there has been no official word on his condition.

Earlier this month, Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the death of protesters during last year’s revolution.

Correspondents say there are fears that Hosni Mubarak’s failing health could be used as a distraction as Egypt awaits the result of the hotly disputed election.

On Wednesday, the Higher Presidential Elections Commission (HPEC) said that some 400 election complaints had been filed by the two candidates.

The commission said it needed more time to investigate the complaints, without giving any new date for the announcement of the results.

However, media reports suggest that the poll winner could be declared over the weekend.

Nader Omran, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said the announcement should not have been delayed.

“It will bring more tension to the people – they should end the story tomorrow (Thursday),” he said.

Protests continued in Tahrir Square late into the night, with the Brotherhood saying they will mount a sit-in until the results are announced, and until the army gives up the sweeping powers it granted itself in a constitutional amendment last week.

Correspondents say Egypt appears to be in political and constitutional limbo.

In preliminary comments on the second round of the presidential election, a group of international election monitors headed by former US President Jimmy Carter voiced concerns about the “political and constitutional context” of the vote.

“I am deeply troubled by the undemocratic turn that Egypt’s transition has taken,” Jimmy Carter said.

On Saturday the SCAF had dissolved Egypt’s elected parliament – dominated by the Brotherhood – after a court ruling that last year’s legislative polls were unconstitutional.

Late on Sunday, hours after the polls closed in the presidential vote, the SCAF issued a constitutional declaration giving itself wide-ranging powers and limiting those of the incoming president.

The declaration effectively gave the SCAF legislative powers, control over the budget and over who writes the permanent constitution.

The SCAF’s moves were widely condemned by activists as amounting to a military coup.

 

Egyptians are voting for the second day in the country’s first free presidential elections – 15 months after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

Queues are being reported at some polling stations.

The election pits Islamists against secularists, and revolutionaries against Mubarak-era ministers. In all, 13 candidates are running.

The military council which assumed presidential power in February 2011 has promised a fair vote and civilian rule.

On Wednesday, there were large queues in many places, and voting passed off calmly for the most part.

However, protesters in Cairo threw shoes and stones at a convoy of candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister.

There were also reports that a group of female voters has been denied access to a polling station in the capital because they were wearing a full face veil.

The US hailed the election, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland describing it as a “very important milestone” in Egypt’s transition to democracy.

Fifty million people are eligible to vote, and preliminary results are expected over the weekend.

Egyptians are voting for the second day in the country's first free presidential elections

Egyptians are voting for the second day in the country's first free presidential elections

The frontrunners are:

Ahmed Shafiq, a former commander of the air force and briefly prime minister during February 2011 protests

Amr Moussa, who has served as foreign minister and head of the Arab League

Mohammed Mursi, who heads Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party

Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent Islamist candidate

Until a new constitution is approved it is unclear what powers the president will have, prompting fears of friction with a military which seems determined to retain its powerful position.

Voting across the country resumed at 08:00 local time. The authorities have declared Thursday a holiday, partly to allow public sector employees time to cast their ballots.

Some Egyptians may have been waiting for a second day of voting to avoid crowds.

On Wednesday, voting was extended by an hour to 21:00 to cater for queues at a number of polling stations.

NGOs and rights groups monitoring the election reported some complaints.

Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) said they received 50 complaints on electoral violations ranging from delay in opening voting booths, to campaigning for candidates outside polling stations during voting.

There was a heavy police and military presence outside the 13,000 polling sub-stations, and the atmosphere was mostly calm, with people waiting patiently for their turn to vote.

Mohammed Mursi was originally the Muslim Brotherhood’s reserve candidate, but he was thrust into the limelight after its first choice, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified by the Higher Presidential Electoral Commission (HPEC) over an unresolved conviction.

He told reporters: “Today the world is witnessing the birth of a new Egypt. I am proud and cherish my membership of this people. I assure them that tomorrow will be better than today and better than yesterday.”

A run-off vote is scheduled for 16 and 17 June if there is no candidate manages to get more that 50% of the votes.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), worried about potential post-election unrest, has sought to reassure Egyptians that it will be the voters themselves who decide who will be the next president.

The 15 months since Hosni Mubarak was forced from power have been turbulent, with continued violent protests and a deteriorating economy.

Foreign direct investment has reversed from $6.4 billion flowing into the country in 2010 to $500 million leaving it last year.

Tourism, a major revenue generator for Egypt, has also dropped by a third.

The new president will have to reform the police to deal with the rash of crime that followed the uprising.

As many as a third of voters were reported to be undecided about which candidate to choose.

The Arab Spring began last year in Tunisia, inspiring pro-democracy activists across the Arab world.

Hosni Mubarak, who was in power for three decades, resigned on 11 February 2011 after 18 days of protests in Cairo and other cities.

He is on trial for his alleged role in the deaths of protesters. A verdict is expected in June.

 

French turnout in the first round of the presidential election was more than 80%, one of the highest in the world.

It’s a measure of the Gallic fervor for election campaigning that the candidate who went on to earn fourth place in Sunday’s vote was able to draw crowds in their tens of thousands.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the Left Front leader, invoked France’s revolutionary past while addressing packed street rallies ahead of the poll, in which he just about reached double figures.

But perhaps a more accurate reflection of the strength of political engagement came at the ballot box, where four out of five registered French voters cast a vote.

Turnout was slightly down on the 84% who voted in the last presidential election in 2007, but given the poor showings in the regional and European elections in the last few years, there had been fears it would be a lot lower.

And 80% far outstrips the turnout in the most recent national elections held in many of France’s neighbors, including Germany (71%), the UK (66%) and Switzerland (47%).

Turnout in France was surprisingly high, says Damien Philippot, research executive at the French Institute of Public Opinion in Paris.

“The polls last week ago showed that around 24% of people didn’t want to vote, and the week before it was 30%.

“So people have decided to vote at the last minute, young people and low-paid workers who are angry about unemployment and wanted to vote against the incumbent. Traditionally the older people and middle class vote anyway.”

Presidential elections always provide a “big moment” in the political life of France, Damien Philippot says.

“And in the last five years, a new generation of politicians has helped to attract younger people.

“Many people have also understood that the economic situation is very complicated and it’s important for them to give their opinion about it.”

French turnout in the first round of the presidential election was more than 80 percent, one of the highest in the world

French turnout in the first round of the presidential election was more than 80 percent, one of the highest in the world

Timing may play a part. The French vote was on a Sunday, while the British usually hold their general election on a Thursday, which is a working day for many.

But there’s also a different political culture in France to the UK, says Helen Drake, author of Contemporary France (2011) and a lecturer in French and European studies at Loughborough University in Leicestershire.

“In some ways French politics is anchored to the past and the notion that French politics is exceptional, and that exceptionalism is linked to the French Revolution of the late 1700s – that dramatic transformation in the French system from monarchy to republic.

“It didn’t overnight inculcate the republic in France but the idea of a French republic as a form of government is in their DNA and is characterized by a style of politics.”

There is an unmediated relationship between the leader and the people, at least symbolically, she says. The president is perceived to be able to change things – even if the reality often disappoints – so his election matters.

A written constitution with grand ideas of equality and fraternity takes French politics beyond the prosaic, she says, and this filters down to the street, to the cafes and to the rallies.

“There is a willingness to be seen, to be counted and to make a noise.”

But why is there such variation between comparable nations?

There are certain factors driving high turnouts in any well-established democracy, says Andrew Ellis of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, based in Stockholm.

“Elections that look as if they will be close – either nationally or at district level – will attract high turnouts.

“Elections where there is a real choice, and the result matters, attract high turnouts.

“And elections conducted under electoral systems where people think that their vote counts and is likely to have an impact, generate high turnouts.”

France’s first round was closely fought and there was a real choice, he says, with a genuine sense among voters that a new president matters, in personality, leadership and policy terms.

By contrast, in Switzerland, general election turnout is very low because for many years it was often the same coalition governing.

Another boost to turnout in countries like France is the proportional-style system which means fringe parties are represented, says Andrew Ellis.

In the UK, turnout peaked in 1951, when the country gave Winston Churchill his second stint in Downing Street, and has been falling since, despite the odd spike.

“That brings into play another effect established in long-standing democracies, which is that the people get in to a habit of voting or not in about the first three national elections after they become old enough to vote,” says Andrew Ellis.

So the danger is that what’s happened in the UK and US, which also has low turnouts, means many people have been put off voting for life.

Compulsory voting

• Australia

• Argentina

• Brazil

• Uruguay

• Ecuador

• Luxembourg

• Belgium

• Greece

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