Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest opposition bloc in the outgoing parliament, said on Monday it won no seats outright in the first round of a vote it said was rigged, but a few candidates would stand in a run-off.
The Brotherhood is the main rival of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and its candidates run as independents to skirt a ban on religious parties. It was contesting 30 percent of the lower house seats after winning an unprecedented fifth of seats in 2005.
The group said before the vote that it did not expect to repeat its 2005 performance, but its early estimate, provided before official results expected on Tuesday, suggests a crushing defeat.
Analysts had said the government would seek to shove its most vocal critic in parliament to the sidelines of official politics as it prepares for a presidential election in 2011.
"Only a few will stand in a run-off but not a single Brotherhood candidate won in the first round," said Saad al-Katatni, the head of the Brotherhood's bloc of 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, equivalent to a fifth of the assembly.
The run-off vote will be held on Dec. 5.
The NDP always deals heavy defeats to its opponents, but these two-round elections are being watched for the space given to the government's critics and clues to the NDP's strategy in a 2011 presidential vote.
Sunday's vote was marred by opposition charges of ballot stuffing, bullying and trickery.
The High Elections Commission, a body of judges and parliamentary nominees, said a quarter of Egypt's 41 million registered voters turned out for Sunday's first round of voting, Egyptian state television reported on Monday.
The Commission said the election was smooth with some cases of scattered violence and fraud which were resolved.
State-owned newspapers said early indications from the count showed President Hosni Mubarak's party was ahead in most areas and also said the Brotherhood had lost ground.
Magdy Abdel Hamid, head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, said the group's estimate of turnout was no more than 10 percent. This was based on 1,000 monitors covering 40 of the 222 constituencies across Egypt.
Fueling the sense of unease, Egyptians the past year have grown increasingly vocal in their anger over high prices, low wages, persistent unemployment and poor services despite economic growth that has fueled a boom for the upper classes.
Sunday's voting saw sporadic violence -- police fired tear gas in one southern Cairo district after police shut down a polling station, and in the southern city of Qena, Brotherhood supporters threw firebombs at police who barred them from voting.
But a heavy presence of security forces, along with gangs of intimidating young men hanging around outside polling stations, seemed to scare off most opposition supporters. Only a trickle of voters, far less than in 2005, was seen throughout the day at most Cairo and Alexandria polls.
"People are scared to leave their homes. Anyone is afraid of the thugs," said Abeer Fathi, a 32-year old housewife in Cairo who nonetheless was able to vote for her Brotherhood candidate. "The authorities are reassured because they know people won't turn up after they scared them ahead of the vote."
"No to fraud"
After polls closed Sunday evening, Brotherhood supporters massed outside several stations where votes were being counted. In Alexandria, around 800 chanted "no to fraud" outside a police station, facing off with several hundred riot police and truckloads of civilians touting long sticks. Brief scuffles broke out, though some Brotherhood supporters tried to pull their colleagues out of any fighting.
Several hundred others marched toward a counting center in the Cairo district of Shubra el-Kheima, but were blocked by a heavy security force. Some protesters threw bottles at police, shouting, "No god but God! No to vote rigging."
At a press conference after polls closed, election commission spokesman Sameh el-Kashef shrugged off accusations of fraud as "not worthy of comment."
"The Egyptians today have used their democratic right," he said, saying "a few violations" were dealt with.
Ahead of Sunday's vote, Egypt rejected U.S. calls to allow foreign monitors to observe the election.
Egypt argued there were enough local monitors to do the job. But civil society groups say the election committee authorized only dozen monitors. It appeared Sunday that even some of those with papers were being turned away.
The government sensitivity over the vote appears to stem from the uncertainty over the presidential election.
Mubarak, who underwent gall bladder surgery in Germany last spring, has not said whether he intends to run for another, six-year term, though senior ruling party figures insist he will. Even if he runs, a new term would take him nearly to the age of 90, raising questions whether he would complete it.
The president is widely thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him. But the 46-year-old investment banker-turned-senior party leader faces some opposition within the party and there is widespread resistance to "inheritance" of power among the public.