Egyptian authorities may delay the announcement of the winner in the presidential runoff, which had been expected on Thursday, because of a large number of complaints filed by the two candidates, a senior election commission official said.
If the electoral commission does delay the official declaration of a winner, it will only heighten tensions gripping the country after both candidates claimed victory. The camp of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq says he won with 51.5 percent of the vote while the campaign of Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood says he got 52 percent to defeat Shafiq with 48 percent.
Adding to the potentially explosive dispute over the election is the latest health scare of the 84-year-old Mubarak, who was ousted in Egypt's uprising last year and is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Overnight, state media reported that he suffered a stroke and was put on life support. He was transferred to a military hospital from the Cairo prison hospital where he has been kept since his June 2 conviction and sentencing for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the uprising. On Wednesday, security officials said he was in a coma but off life support and his heart and other vital organs were functioning.
Already, the rival claims have injected a new irritant into Egypt's worsening political crisis with less than two weeks left before the ruling military council that took over from Mubarak 16 months ago was scheduled to hand over power to an elected president. The ruling generals have issued amendments and additions to a constitutional declaration that tightened their grip on power. The decree stripped the next president of significant powers and gave the military control over the national budget and the drafting of a new and permanent constitution.
The declaration came just days after judges appointed by Mubarak before his ouster ruled to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament on the grounds that the law governing its election some six months ago breached the principle of equality.
Tens of thousands of Islamists from the Brotherhood and its allies staged a protest in central Cairo on Tuesday night to denounce the declaration and the dissolution of parliament.
But some saw the rally more as a celebration of Morsi's victory and a show of force in the face of the rival victory claim made by Shafiq, a former commander of the air force and a longtime friend and admirer of Mubarak. Many among the protesters were chanting for Morsi and carrying his portraits.
The election official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the commission was looking into scores of complaints by Morsi and Shafiq.
Security officials said several employees of the state press, where election ballots were printed, were being questioned by prosecutors over allegations that thousands of the ballots were marked in favor of Morsi before they were sent to polling centers known to be run by officials sympathetic to the Brotherhood.
Already, three heads of polling centers in different parts of the country have been arrested for questioning about alleged vote rigging.
The ruling military council, the state prosecutors and the election commission are all seen as close to the old regime, which engaged in widespread vote rigging and fraud throughout Mubarak's three decades in power. The allegations could be an attempt by old regime figures to discredit the Brotherhood and undercut its power.
There have been more complaints about the weekend presidential runoff than any election since the ouster of Mubarak. But foreign and local monitors say they were not serious or large-scale enough to question the legality of the process.
Mubarak's transfer out of prison overnight could also stir up anger among opponents of the regime, who have long suspected that he is getting preferential treatment by the ruling generals led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former president's defense minister for 20 years. Mubarak was kept out of prison for the entire time since his arrest last year in April and until June 2 when he was taken to Torah.
Mubarak's wife Suzanne was by his side in the Nile-side military hospital in Maadi, a suburb just south of Cairo, where he was transferred. The security officials said a team of 15 doctors, including heart, blood and brain specialists, was supervising the condition of Mubarak, who needed help with his breathing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Mubarak was convicted of failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising that forced him out of office on Feb. 11, 2011. He and his two sons, onetime heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa, were acquitted of corruption charges. But the two sons are held in Torah awaiting trial on charges of insider trading.
The two were by their father's side at the Torah prison hospital, but the officials said prison authorities refused their request to accompany him to the Maadi military hospital.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now