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Egyptians vote in first multicandidate election

CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptians voted Wednesday in the nation's first multicandidate race for president, and while Egypt has clearly not yet shaken off decades of one-man, one-party rule, the streets were calm, protesters were allowed to block city traffic, and voters could cast a ballot for someone other than Hosni Mubarak.

This election was far from free and fair, based on visits to polling stations around the city. But it was a step forward, no matter how small, for a country that has operated under a state of emergency for decades, that has never allowed opposition candidates to appear on a presidential ballot and that routinely sanctioned violence as a tool on Election Day, political analysts and government critics said.

"There are violations, but in comparison to before, it's much better than we expected," said Gasser Abdel Razeq, a member of the board of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a frequent critic of the government's heavy-handed tactics.

Independent civic groups said turnout seemed low, but election officials said figures would not be immediately available. Mubarak's party was eager to bolster the vote's credibility by encouraging higher turnouts.

Still, it was clear that Mubarak would win — and that his supporters would do what they needed to in order to make that happen. Polling stations around the capital were crowded with Mubarak's supporters, and in several districts around the city people who promised to vote for the president were given raffle tickets offering prizes that included an apartment, a pilgrimage to Mecca, a bedroom furniture set, televisions, refrigerators and stoves.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. Mubarak faced nine opponents, though only two had any real following. After so many years in power, and with a political patronage system that employs about 7 million people, Mubarak was expected to win easily. By law, after ballots are counted, the presidential commission has three days to announce official results.