The judicial committtee supervising Egypt's first voting since the revolution has set a date for nominations to begin for the presidential election but failed to follow through on a promise to announce when the election will actually happen.
The committee had been expected to announce a date on Sunday, but the judges told a news conference the decision was being delayed as they worked out how to ensure Egyptians abroad will have enough time to vote.
Farouk Soltan, the head of Egypt's highest court, said counting expatriate votes for the presidential election would be harder than during the parliamentary election since the vote would happen on one day, rather than over nearly three months.
The military council that took over from ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February last year has faced repeated street protests demanding a swifter transfer of power to a civilian authority. In response to protests, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) promised to hold a presidential election by the end of June.
Soltan said the nomination period would open on March 10 and close on April 8. He also pledged that elections would be held according to the military's timetable.
"The committee has decided to postpone announcing the schedule for elections until it can reach a solution that will allow Egyptians abroad to vote in a manner that will make their participation real," Soltan said.
Several prominent figures have already announced they plan to run, including former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa and ex-Muslim Brotherhood member, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.
Egyptian media have also reported that current Arab League chief Nabil el-Arabi - a former foreign minister as well - has met with the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council to discuss his own potential candidacy.
This follows hiccups in voting for the estimated eight million Egyptians living abroad during the parliamentary poll. Many complained they did not have time to register and diplomats said they were not given enough time for the count.
The Egyptian foreign ministry has requested that voters abroad have a two-week period to cast their ballot and that counting take place over a week. The committee said it was considering this request.
Government ministers had suggested the election could be held earlier than June, with some suggesting late May. But Soltan told reporters on Sunday only his committee could set a date or give details of the race.
Committee member Ahmed Shams el-Din had earlier told the Reuters news agency the vote would take place in June but did not give a precise date.
"Presidential elections begin in the first week of June and the president will be sworn in by the end of June," he said. "Any run-offs will take place within the month of June, and by July we will have an Egyptian president."
Many analysts see Moussa as the front-runner but say much will depend on what kind of backing he can secure from the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as the biggest bloc after a parliamentary vote. Some politicians say they want a candidate who will also have the army's nod of approval.
Egypt has been ruled by military officers for six decades, since Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers group launched a bloodless coup in 1952. Moussa, a popular former foreign minister under Mubarak, has said he has reached out to Islamists.
El-Arabi, a well-respected and experienced diplomat, has been touted by the media and some parties as a potential challenger who could unite political factions wary of backing any candidate with links to Mubarak's old era.
"I have no intention to run for the presidency, under any circumstances," El-Arabi told journalists on Sunday, afternewspapers reported negotiations between parties to back him.
Under new rules approved in a referendum last year, presidents will be limited to two consecutive four-year terms.
Mubarak was ousted shortly before the end of his fifth six-year term. Most of his terms were secured via single-candidate referendums.
In 2005 he ran in Egypt's first multi-candidate race, but rights groups and others said the rules for that poll blocked any realistic challenge to the incumbent.
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