At least 500 Egyptians have taken the first step to run for president, a sign of the excitement generated by the country's first presidential elections in which the outcome is in doubt, election officials told AP on Wednesday.
AP reported that 500 people have obtained applications to officially register their candidacy for the poll, which follows last year's ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
However, Presidential Elections Commission Secretary General Hatem Bagato was quoted by MENA news service at midday as saying that 449 candidates have obtained applications since opening the application period began on Saturday. Candidates have until 8 April to submit completed candidacy applications.
Besides well-known presidential hopefuls who have already been campaigning, the applicants include a wide range of Egyptians from different professions and backgrounds, including journalists, judges, lawyers and school teachers, MENA reported.
The election is scheduled to take place on 23 and 24 May. Independent applicants must secure the endorsement of 30 members of Parliament or 30,000 people in at least 15 of Egypt's 18 provinces in order to run.
Applicants representing political parties with at least one member in Parliament are exempt from these requirements.
Bagato was quoted by state TV as saying that two candidates have submitted completed applications: Ahmed Mohamed Awad Ali of the Egypt National Party and Abul Ezz al-Hariry of the Socialist People's Alliance Party.
However, Bagato later told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the elections commission said that the Egypt National Party sent it a letter saying the party has not decided that Ali will be its candidate.
The office of the president in Egypt has powers far exceeding any other branch of government, with Mubarak, for example, running the country with unquestioned authority for 29 years until his ouster by a popular uprising 13 months ago.
The generals who took over power after his ouster function as a collective presidency, again with far-reaching powers.
Islamists, who dominate both chambers of Parliament after sweeping electoral victories, seek to curtail the powers of the president's office and give more authority to the legislature.
Presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh leads the race to collect signatures for candidacy, followed by Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabbahi, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on Wednesday.
The independent daily reported that former members of the disbanded National Democratic Party have collected signatures in Sharqiya for candidate Ahmed Shafiq, while residents of Monufiya collected signatures for Mohamed ElBaradei, although he withdrew from the race.
Bagato also told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Egyptian expatriates can endorse presidential candidates.
“We have printed 100,000 ballots to send to embassies around the world in order to enable Egyptian expatriates to vote,” Bagato said.
Since the overthrow of Egypt’s monarchy in the early 1950s, presidents have always been members of the military and have secured the office through heavily rigged elections in which only their name appeared on the ballot.
The only exception to this was in 2005, when Mubarak allowed other candidates to run against him. He won the vote comfortably and later jailed the politician who finished a distant second on drummed-up forgery charges.
The presidential election will be the last step in Egypt's turbulent transition to civilian rule. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, has promised to hand over power shortly after the new president is announced on 21 June.