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Egypt election surprise: the 2nd-place winner

CAIRO, Egypt — In a lopsided victory, President Hosni Mubarak was declared the winner of Egypt's first multicandidate contest for president on Friday night, with 88.5 percent of the vote, but election officials said turnout was low, at just 23 percent. There was never any doubt that Mubarak, 77, would win after 24 years in power and control of the only far-reaching political organization. But his campaign, and government officials, had worked feverishly to try to draw out voters on Wednesday, hoping to add legitimacy to his fifth six-year term. In the end, he was declared victor with 6.31 million votes, cast by a fraction of Egypt's 32 million registered voters.

By comparison, the government reported a 53 percent turnout in May, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the multicandidate elections.

If Election Day provided any surprises, it was in the contest for second place, no matter how distant. Official figures showed that Ayman Nour, who founded the fledgling Tomorrow Party and attacked the ruling elite throughout his campaign, won 540,000 votes — more than twice as many as the third-place finisher, Noaman Gomaa, leader of the long-established Wafd Party.

"Indeed, it is a surprise, very unexpected," said Salama Ahmed Salama, a columnist with the leading state-owned newspaper, Al Ahram. "Nour could be the real winner here because there was no question that Mubarak was going to win."

There were 10 candidates in all, with the nine challengers earning a combined vote of about 1 million, according to the official results. Of the 7.31 million votes cast, 7.1 million were declared valid.

Nour's second-place finish was surprising not only because he defeated the leader of Wafd, a party with a long history in Egypt, but also because the government and the governing National Democratic Party did little to hide their distaste for him.

Government prosecutors have accused him of forging more than 1,000 petition signatures needed to get his Tomorrow Party registered, and sought to paint him as an accomplished counterfeiter. The court case against Nour is still pending.