Egyptian polls: Mubarak against poor opposition

Today is the day of Egyptian elections. Thousands of voters will choose the future head of the state. Hosni Mubarak, the currant President, will also take part in the polls.

Ten candidates are standing but incumbent Hosni Mubarak is expected to win a fifth six-year term as the leader of the Arab world's most populous nation.

Voting was slow, but among the first to cast their ballot were Mr Mubarak, his wife Suzanne and his politician son Gamal, much discussed as a possible successor, voted in the northeast Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

Opposition against the 77-year-old's National Democratic Party is expected to be slight with most of the contenders being little known and their parties attracting few members.

Thirty-two million of the 72 million Egyptians are registered to vote but the turnout in previous elections has been very low, often less than 10 per cent in some areas.

Mubarak's main rivals are two liberals - Ayman Nour of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and Noman Gomaa of the Wafd Party, which dominated Egyptian politics in the early 20th century.

At the station in Fayoum, the first voter was 70-year-old Ahmed Abdel Mohsen, who said he was voting for Mubarak. "I feel good. Of course it's a historic day," he said.

Rights groups are watching the voting more closely than ever to try to prevent the kind of abuses which have marred previous parliamentary elections and referendums for the presidency under the old single-candidate system.

Mubarak has campaigned on a record of economic development and political stability and has promised more political and economic liberalisation if he wins a new six-year term.

His critics say economic growth has been too slow and that Mubarak has expanded political freedoms half-heartedly and only in response to foreign and domestic pressure.

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