CAIRO, Egypt – Turnout was miserably low, voting irregularities were prevalent, and the result — President Hosni Mubarak's (search) re-election — was known from the start. Still, some in the opposition said Friday that Egypt's flawed vote created momentum toward greater democracy.
Opposition movements, while unconvinced the government is sincere in its promises of reform, are vowing to fight harder in parliamentary elections set for November.
Wednesday's election was the first in which Mubarak, a key U.S. ally in power for 24 years, has faced opponents. Previously, he was re-elected in referendums in which he was the sole candidate.
The integrity of the vote was seen as a key test of his government's commitment to democracy. While few opponents believed the vote was clean, some suggested it was clean enough to raise their hopes.
The final results announced Friday by the elections commission held no surprises: the 77-year-old Mubarak won a new six-year term with 88.571 percent of the vote.
His closest rivals, Ayman Nour of the opposition Al-Ghad party (search) and Noaman Gomaa of the Wafd party, took 7.3 and 2.8 percent, respectively.
The vote was also marred by a lower-than-expected turnout: 23 percent, according to the commission. Before the vote, ruling party officials said they had been hoping more than 30 percent of the 32 million registered voters would participate.
The turnout suggested many Egyptians were apathetic about a vote Mubarak was sure to win or skeptical about promises of reform.
Mubarak's margin of victory was higher than that in preliminary results leaked a day earlier by an elections commission official and published in state-run newspapers — which gave Mubarak about 80 percent and Nour about 12 percent.
Nour denounced the results as "void" and accused the commission — a body the government says is independent but which reform-minded judges say is dominated by the ruling party — of forging the result in Mubarak's favor.
"This is a farce," he told The Associated Press, vowing to present evidence of fudging in the numbers. "I will appeal to get our rights back."
During the balloting, ordinary voters, independent monitors and opposition groups reported numerous violations, including bribes, people voting without proper identification, voting lists that included names of the dead, and pressure on voters to support Mubarak.
But many opposition figures saw reason to hope. The vote took place under intense scrutiny by thousands of independent monitors and sparked a revolution among judges — some of whom have been intensely critical of the process — preventing the sort of police violence or overt vote rigging that plagued past parliamentary votes.
"There was huge pressure on the ruling party and the security forces, so the forgery was much less than before," said Hussein Abdel Raziq, deputy leader of the leftist Tagammu party (search), which boycotted the vote.
"I can't say that the presidential election was absolutely positive, but it was more positive than expected," he told The Associated Press.
Abdel Halim Qandil, spokesman of the anti-Mubarak movement Kifaya — or "Enough" — pointed to a "new spirit" among Egyptians. "The judges, monitors, the university professors, the youth — all are seeds for a growing drive for reform in the coming years," he said.
The Kifaya movement will try to organize an opposition slate to run in the November parliament elections to press reform, Qandil said. Opposition parties are looking to erode the ruling National Democratic Party's hold on the legislature. The NDP currently has 388 of the body's 454 seats.
Past parliament votes have been rife with fraud allegations, but a more fair vote could level the playing field.
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, believed to be Egypt's biggest opposition movement, plans to run up to 200 candidates, hoping to increase its bloc of 15 legislators. Since the group is illegal, its members must run as independents.
"The only exit for Egypt is a real Egyptian parliament and not an NDP parliament," Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a senior Brotherhood member, said.
A strong showing in the parliament vote is key because starting with the 2011 election, only parties with at least 5 percent of seats in the legislature can field candidates for president. Candidates not connected to a party must get at least 250 signatures from elected bodies now dominated by the NDP.
The opposition is hoping a strong enough block in parliament will enable it to change the constitutional amendment that places restrictions on who can run for president.
Opposition parties have long been stagnant, with ill-defined programs and little grassroots backing. Holding real elections could energize them.
Edward Walker, a former U.S. ambassador in Cairo, called the presidential vote "a training ground for democracy in which the candidates ... actually had to campaign, to get out the vote. These are all skills that Egypt doesn't have in large measures, and they are going to be critical if a real opposition will develop."