Nearly 500 Egyptians have obtained applications to run for president, a sign of the excitement generated by the country's first presidential elections in which the outcome is in doubt, election officials said on Wednesday.

They said a total of 472 people have received the papers to officially declare their candidacy for the vote, which follows last year's ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

They said that, beside known presidential hopefuls who have been seriously campaigning, the applicants included a wide range of obscure Egyptians in different professions like journalists, judges, lawyers and school teachers.

The election is scheduled for May 23-24. Independent applicants must secure the endorsement of 30 lawmakers or 30,000 people in at least 15 of Egypt's 18 provinces in order to run. Applicants from political parties with at least one member in parliament are exempt from these endorsements.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The office of the president in Egypt has powers far exceeding any other branch of government, with Mubarak, for example, running the country with unquestioned authority for 29 years until his ouster by a popular uprising 13 months ago.

The generals who took over power after his ouster function as a collective presidency, again with far-reaching powers.

Islamists who have dominated elections for parliament's two chambers would like to curtail the powers of the president's office and give more authority to the legislature.