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New question arises over validity of Egypt election even as results are confirmed

Egypt’s election commission on Monday released the final vote tallies in this country's first democratic election, confirming that next month’s runoff will be between a Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate and a top leader from the deposed regime.

But even as the commission released the numbers from last week’s two-day vote, uncertainty continued to plague the election process, as it remains unclear whether one of the candidates, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, will be constitutionally allowed to run.

In all, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi earned 5,764,952 votes while Shafik garnered 5,505,327 votes – a difference between the top two candidates of just under 260,000 ballots. Arab nationalist Hamdeem Sabahi, who enjoyed a surge of support in the final days of the election, came in third with 4,820,273 votes – just under 950,000 ballots off the pace. Of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters, 46 percent participated, the commission said.

The commission said it found minor election infractions, but not enough to affect the outcome. In announcing the results, the commission, headed by a deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appointee, spelled out the steps it had taken to check for irregularities. The commission has tried repeatedly to reassure a dubious public that it is impartial and not an extension of the current ruling military council.

The two front runners already have begun campaigning in hopes of winning the support of voters who’d backed other candidates, including revising some of their most controversial positions. In the first round, Shafik unapologetically had boasted of his ties to the regime, and Morsi promised to implemented a strict interpretation of sharia law. But since Friday, when results began trickling out of the governorates, both have run toward the center, promising unity, moderate rule and consensus-based government.

Shafik’s candidiacy still faces a hurdle, however. Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has yet to rule on the validity of legislation passed earlier this year by the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament that barred former members of Mubarak’s government from running for office. Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, initially had been disqualified from running, but the election commission reversed that decision later, pending the constitutional court ruling.

If the court finds the law is valid, some believe Egypt must hold another election. The court has not said when it will make its ruling and on Monday, the commission refused to tell voters how it would respond to such a ruling.

“When the constitutional court makes it ruling, the law will be applied,” said Farouk Sultan, the election commission chairman, refusing to provide additional comment. Sultan should know better than most what the effect of a ruling upholding the law would be; he is on loan to the election commission from the constitutional court, where he was chairman.

Regardless, losing candidates pounced Monday, saying the uncertainty was one of many reasons there should be a new election.

“I said before that I will accept the result of the elections no matter who wins if the elections are free and fair, but I will not acknowledge the results of those elections,” said moderate Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh hours before the results were released. “I will not participate in deceiving the Egyptian people.”

McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this report.

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