Egyptian military polls voters on Facebook

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The Independent Online

Egypt's military rulers have posted a Facebook poll to gauge the popularity of nearly 20 presidential hopefuls, an apparent attempt to show their commitment to a democratic transition amid criticism of their management of the country.

The move was a novelty after three decades of authoritarian rule by President Hosni Mubarak, accused of overseeing a corrupt system controlled by his family and cronies. Elections under Mr Mubarak were marred by fraud and rigging.

The first parliamentary elections since Mr Mubarak was ousted on 11 February in a popular uprising are expected in September. The date for the presidential poll is not yet clear, but according to the initial timetable set in the military-sponsored transitional plan, it should be by year's end.

The online survey, which has garnered more than 100,000 responses, listed 18 candidates, including the pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the first female hopeful, Bothaina Kamel, and former regime officials, including the former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, whom Mr Mubarak appointed Vice-President as one of his final attempts to cling to power. Yesterday Mr ElBaradei was in the lead with 35 per cent of votes, followed by the Islamic scholar Mohammed Selim al-Awa.

The month-long poll that opened on Sunday is not scientific, reaching only about a fifth of the population of 85 million who have access to the internet. But it could be an indicator of the front-runners ahead of the balloting.

Many welcomed the military's effort to reach out to a public that has grown critical of unilateral army decisions since Mr Mubarak stepped down, but sceptics – who say the military is perpetuating the Mubarak regime's tight controls on politics – suspect the poll may be a way for the generals to promote their favourite candidate, or shop for candidates to back.

The political forces that emerged after the uprising have found themselves divided over the transition timetable, with the debate focusing on whether to first have parliamentary elections or write the new constitution. Some fear that if elections come first, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the most well organised group, could take a large share of the parliament and heavily influence the new constitution.