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Egypt holds its first truly competitive leadership election in its history from Wednesday to pick the man to replace Hosni Mubarak, ousted last year in a popular uprising.
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The first round takes place on May 23 and 24, with about 50 million of Egypt's 82 million population eligible to vote. According to the official schedule, counting will be completed on May 26, followed by a period when appeals will be heard. The first-round result will be formally announced on May 29.
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If any candidate achieves more than 50 percent of the votes in the first leg, he wins outright. That seems unlikely given the spread of candidates, so a run-off between the top two vote getters is expected to go ahead on June 16 and 17, with the result out on June 21.
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Turnout was about 60 percent in the parliamentary election. Some analysts expect that figure to be topped in this vote.
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Thirteen candidates entered the race after 10 people were disqualified by the election committee for failing to meet requirements. Among those ejected was Mubarak's former spy chief - and briefly his vice president - Omar Sulieman, as well as a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now fielding reserve candidate Mohamed Mursi. There are now 12 in the race after one withdrew.
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The other main contenders are the liberal former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is one of the best known names in the race, Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh who has appealed to voters ranging from liberals to ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims, and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander, aviation minister and, in the final days of Mubarak's rule, prime minister. Most other candidates are viewed as well down the field, although leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy has been gaining popularity with his down-to-earth style.
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Opinion polling is a novelty in Egypt where votes in Mubarak's era were widely rigged and the outcome a foregone conclusion. So the reliability of the polls published in newspapers is untested. Broad indications suggest Moussa, Abol Fotouh and Shafiq lead the field, with Mursi trailing but with the broad grass-roots network of the Brotherhood behind him. That network already made the Brotherhood the biggest winner in a parliamentary election.
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But the overwhelming impression is that many Egyptians have been undecided throughout the campaign and may not decide until the last minute.