Cairo - Egyptians swarmed polling stations on the second day Thursday of a gripping presidential election in which candidates are pitting stability against the ideals of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's rule.
Long queues formed outside the voting centres after they opened at 08:00, with authorities declaring Thursday a public holiday to allow public sector employees to cast their ballots.
At a school in the upmarket Cairo neighbourhood of Heliopolis, with the dome of Mubarak's former presidential palace visible a few hundred metres away, hundreds of women braved the heat to stand in line to vote.
"I'm very happy because we'll be choosing our president. I came to vote last night but it was too crowded, so I'm back," said Dina al-Badri, 26.
"I chose my candidate a while ago based on his programme, but everyone in my family is voting for someone else," she said.
Noha Hamdy, 27, said it was a pleasant novelty to be voting in an election where the outcome is not predetermined.
"We go to an election not knowing who will win. I never voted before because the winner was always known in advance," she said. "This time I feel who I vote for, even if he doesn't win, will make a difference."
About 50 million eligible voters are choosing among 12 candidates, with the front runners divided between Islamists who say they will champion the uprising's goals and Mubarak-era ministers.
On Wednesday, after a slow start, cooler evening temperatures and the end of the work day prompted a surge in voters, who wound their way through streets outside polling stations across the country.
Two of the candidates are expected to go into June run-offs after the 23 and 24 May vote, with pollsters saying the number of undecided voters makes the result of the first round extremely difficult to predict.
The next president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the uprising and its sometimes deadly aftermath, but his powers are yet to be defined by a new constitution.
Among the contenders is former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who is seen as an experienced politician and diplomat. But like Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, he is accused of ties with the old regime.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Mursi, faces competition from Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrays himself as a consensus choice with a wide range of support.
Several of the candidates broke an election committee period of silence during the polling to shore up their chances and attack others, with Shafiq warning of a "huge problem" if the Islamists get into power.
Pollsters say the many voters who are still undecided are likely to make up their minds at the last minute or be swayed by the candidate with the best network for mustering votes.
The election seals a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed democratic parliamentary elections that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.
Ballot boxes from Wednesday were kept overnight in the stations after being sealed with wax by election commission officials and left under military and police protection.
Results are expected on Sunday.