Egyptians vote Tuesday in a lackluster municipal poll boycotted by the main opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood following a stifling government crackdown on political dissent
Polls are due to open around the country at 8:00 am (0600 GMT), with President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party fielding a candidate for every one of the 52,000 council seats up for grabs.
Ninety percent of its candidates are standing unopposed, according to party members, in a poll whose importance stems from a 2005 constitutional amendment requiring presidential candidates to secure the backing of councilors.
Parties with presidential ambitions, including the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood whose members sit in parliament as independents, now need the support of at least 10 members of every local council in at least 14 provinces to stand.
The next presidential election is set for 2011, with many expecting the veteran 79-year-old Mubarak to stand down in favor of his son and senior NDP member Gamel.
In contrast, the Islamist party had been due to field just 21 candidates out of around 4,000 they originally put forward after a wide-ranging government crackdown left many would-be candidates behind bars or blocked from registering.
As a result, the Brotherhood announced its boycott on the eve of the vote and called on all Egyptians to do likewise.
"We have decided to boycott the municipal elections, to withdraw our candidates and to appeal to the people not to vote," the deputy head of the Brotherhood's bloc in parliament Hussein Ibrahim told journalists on Monday.
He said that the authorities had used "illegal and immoral means" to exclude Brotherhood candidates, including "the arrest of 1,000 members, administrative obstacles to candidates registering and using prisoners as hostages."
The Brotherhood's supreme leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef denounced the regime's "disregard for judicial decisions and the flagrant violation of the constitution and the law regarding Brothers putting forward their candidacy."
The group has said the government is eager to avoid another electoral setback after the Brotherhood won 20 percent of seats in parliament.
Press reports have said only 700 out of 1,700 members of the opposition liberal Wafd party were able to register, as well as some 400 members of the left-leaning Tagammu party, amid complaints by opposition hopefuls of obstacles ranging from bureaucratic hurdles to physical assaults at registration stations.
International organizations have condemned the government's crackdown against opposition candidates.