Egyptians voted on Wednesday in the second round of a parliamentary election, part of a lengthy transition to civilian rule after generals took charge following Hosni Mubarak’s removal from office in February.
Below are some questions and answers about how voting works and what is at stake:
How many seats?
The staggered vote that started on Nov. 28 is to fill 498 seats in the lower house. The last run-off vote will take place on Jan. 11. The military council will appoint 10 more deputies. Voting for 180 seats in the 270-strong upper house starts on Jan. 29 and ends on March 12. The holders of 90 seats will be appointed by the next president after his election.
What powers will parliament have?
The new parliament’s primary task will be to pick a 100-strong constituent assembly to write the new constitution. Only elected members of both houses will be able to pick the assembly’s members. Parliament will have legislative power but the military council that took over from Mubarak will keep its "presidential powers" until a presidential election, now expected in June 2012.
The military council will still appoint the government until mid-2012, but is likely to face pressure from parliament to ensure it reflects the mix of the newly elected assembly.
Who can vote, who will supervise?
Egypt has 50 million eligible voters among its more than 80 million people. The minimum voting age is 18. Police and military officers are not allowed to vote.
Voting is staggered to ensure judges supervise each phase. In the lower house, polling stations will open for two days for both the first round of each vote and any run-offs.
Judges were sidelined in the 2010 parliamentary election under Mubarak, which rights groups said was heavily rigged.
Monitors said voting in the first round was mostly orderly and fair but a court annulled results for one Cairo district and the elections committee has promised a re-run there in January.
How will voting work?
For its first free vote in decades, Egypt has chosen a complex system. Two-thirds of the 498 lower house seats will be picked by proportional representation, using lists drawn up by parties or alliances. Each list must include at least one woman candidate and adopt a specific symbol to help the illiterate. Seats will be allocated proportionally based on a party’s showing in each of 46 districts.
The remaining third, or 166 seats, in the lower house are open to individuals, who may or may not have party affiliations, two from each of 83 districts.
Of the individual candidates, half must be "professionals" and the rest "workers" or "farmers," categories that hark back to President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s redistributive socialist policies in the 1950s and 1960s. Qualifying rules exist, though the distinctions have little relevance.
The system does complicate voting procedures.
A winner must achieve more than 50 percent of the votes in a district or face a run-off. If a professional wins one seat, the second seat must go to a farmer or worker, although both seats can go to farmers and workers.
The voting procedures apply to the upper house, too.
How does it compare to before?
Under Egypt’s voting system in the 1990s and 2000s, seats were contested by a two-round system in two-member districts, and 10 were appointed by the president.
Now the constituencies have been expanded and the system reshaped in a way intended to provide a fair representation of parties, movements and ideologies, as well as new groups.
For the upper house, there will be 30 two-member individual districts and 30 party list districts.
When will results be announced?
The committee supervising the election is announcing results after each round. But the final tally of seats for party lists will only be clear after the final round. Each party list has to secure more than half a percent of the vote nationwide to ensure they are represented.
Parties, who are allowed to have representatives monitoring the vote count, have also been giving early indications of their performance. So far those have proved broadly accurate.
For the seats allocated to individuals, the election committee has promised to announce results the day after each round of elections is over. But the number of candidates means many of the seats go to a run-off.
What is the picture so far?
Islamist party lists have so far secured about two-thirds of the valid votes cast, better than many analysts had expected. But Islamists are not a united force and include ultra-conservative Salafis, the well-established Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the moderate Wasat Party.
The FJP, whose list has secured about 37 percent of the votes for lists in the first round, may shun an alliance with Salafis and side with more moderate or liberal forces to form a majority in parliament.
The best performing liberal coalition, the Egyptian Bloc, secured about 13 percent of the votes for lists.