Cairo: After three weeks of hectic campaign that included unprecedented public debates and exchanges, Egypt`s presidential contenders crossed their fingers today for a two-day electoral silence, before a historic election decides the country`s first non-military president.
A total of 13 candidates are in fray to become Hosni Mubarak`s democratic successor but the final race boils down to five names -- Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi, former foreign minister and secularist Amr Moussa, former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, Islamist moderate Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh and Left-leaning nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi.
While the first round of voting will be held on Wednesday and Thursday, a run off will follow on June 16, 17, if any single candidate fails to win an outright majority.
Recent opinion polls suggest that Egyptians are still largely undecided about their favoured candidate and the vote will be a close one that will probably lead to a run-off.
While initial polls showed Moussa in the lead, a later surge has been observed in favour of Mubarak`s last prime minister Shafiq. Leftist Sabahi has also seen a rise in popularity but continues to be behind the other four, while Mursi`s ratings have plummeted.
More significantly, at least 40 percent of voters have indicated they were still undecided, suggesting confusion and division over distinct ideologies.
Hectic campaigning was on over the past three weeks with millions of dollars being spent, far exceeding the ceiling of USD 1.4 million per candidate, set by the election authority.
The `electoral silence` started last night, 48 hours before the nation goes to polls.
Many social media users welcomed the silence after days of extensive verbal exchanges that also saw the first political televised debate in Arab history between two leading candidates -- Moussa and Abul-Fotouh.
Shafiq`s latest popularity surge is being seen by observers as an indication that some Egyptians might be growing weary of demonstrations and looking to return to the law and order of Mubarak`s time.
But, his survival to the last phase through corruption allegations and an attempt to disqualify him from running has given rise to suspicions among critics, who see him as an agent of Mubarak`s time, that he is receiving help from the military-controlled state media.
The Election Commission promised there will be tough penalties against any candidate who breaks the silence until the elections are held on Wednesday morning.
The election comes over a year after the last autocratic ruler Mubarak was ousted in a mass uprising, following which the military took over the reins of power and promised a peaceful transition of democracy.
However, the period saw repeated demonstrations by dissenters who felt the transition process was too slow and suspected the military was trying to retain its hold on power.
The parliamentary elections saw Muslim Brotherhood emerge as the largest political force in the country, and by June 21, Egypt will get its first civilian president.