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Millions Turn Out to Vote in Egypt, Congo Elections

November 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: At different ends of the African continent today, millions of people are voting in two separate elections, one in Egypt, the other in Congo.

Margaret Warner has our story.

For a second day, voters across Egypt lined up in overwhelming numbers for a chance to make history.

MAN: I think it’s a good experience for all Egyptians to have true elections and to give his voice to the one who deserve it and to begin a new time of democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: For some, that meant a wait of seven hours or more on Monday in the country’s first parliamentary election since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last February. Voting hours were extended to midnight in some precincts to cope with the crowds.

ABDEL MOAZ IBRAHIM, Egyptian Elections Committee (through translator): We were surprised at the high turnout of voters. It was higher than expected.

MARGARET WARNER: The voting proceeded peacefully both days, with no reports of violence at polling places, as had been feared.

Generals of the ruling military council said the voting validated the way they have managed the political process since Mubarak left office. But just last week, they faced huge protests in Cairo by impatient Egyptians accusing the military of trying to cling to power. More than 40 people were killed.

The election of nearly 500 members of the parliament’s lower chamber is taking place in three stages across the country. The first, including Cairo and Alexandria, with voting this week and run-offs next week, ends Dec. 6. The second, predominantly in the north, ends Dec. 22. And the final one in remaining regions ends Jan. 11.

Partial results from this first round could come tomorrow, but the full makeup of the lower house won’t be known until all rounds are complete. Then elections for the upper house of parliament will run from January into March.

Farther south, national elections produced a very different picture in Congo, Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, with 68 million people. Yesterday’s presidential and parliamentary vote had to be extended into a second day, after being marred by violence, including an attack on a truck carrying ballots that left at least five people dead.

Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is seeking re-election against 10 opposition candidates. Kabila assumed the presidency of the former Belgian colony once known as Zaire after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, 10 years ago. The elder Kabila led the revolution that brought down the country’s dictator of 32 years, Mobutu Sese Seko.

That plunged the country into two civil wars lasting nearly a decade, until a peace agreement produced the country’s first democratic election in 2006. At least one candidate in this new vote has already claimed fraud and called for the results to be voided. And that in turn has ignited fears of new political violence in a country whose eastern region is still controlled by militias and rebel groups.