After dominating the first round of elections, Egypt's Islamist are contesting the second round of the polls as frontrunners, notwithstanding the possibility of a better showing this time by the secular parties and some loyalists of the former ruler, Hosni Mubarak.

In the two-day poll which began on Wednesday, 180 of the 498 parliamentary seats, which are being contested in the three-stage poll, are up for grabs. Balloting for 168 seats has already concluded during the first round, which ended on November 29.

A total of 3,387 candidates have this time entered the electoral arena, covering nine out of Egypt's 27 governorates, including Giza, Aswan, and Suez, on the edge of the canal that goes by its name, which is critical for the conduct of international trade.

High-octane first round

Buoyed by the high-octane first round results, the Islamists are hoping for another landslide. They are contesting under the banners of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the ultra-conservative Al Nour party, the Reconstruction and Development Party of the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, well-known for its alleged role in masterminding the assassination of the former President, Anwar Sadat, and the more moderate Wasat Party.

With 75 seats already in the bag after the first round, the FJP hopes to consolidate its gains in the second round. It is hopeful of doing well in the Nile Delta rural governorates of Beheira and Sharqiya.

But many analysts are of the view that the party, despite its proven popularity, should not expect a cake-walk.

Remnants of now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) of the Mubarak-era, contesting under a new name or as independents are expected to offer some resistance, especially in the Menoufiya governorate, home to the families

of Mr. Mubarak and the late Sadat. Law makers from the former NDP, now contesting as candidates under a variety of names, including the Egyptian Citizens Party are also expected to strongly compete in the Sohag governorate.

Despite their stunning showing in the first round, the jury is still out on the possible second-round performance of the Salafists who have been coalescing around Al Nour and other radical Islamist parties.After securing a modest 50 seats during the first stage, the secular parties are hoping for a better outing in this round.

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