Islamist candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood look set to emerge as big winners in this week's first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt.
Voting on November 28-29 took place in just nine of Egypt's 27 provinces. But those districts included the key cities of Cairo and Alexandria as well as Luxor and rural areas in southern Egypt.
Final results from the first round were due tonight but electoral officials have now announced that results won't be announced until December 2.
Judges monitoring the vote count say the political arm of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best-organized group, could win as many as 45 percent of the seats up for grabs.
The Associated Press, quoting election judges who spoke on condition of anonymity, also reported that the Egyptian bloc coalition of liberal parties and the ultra-fundamentalist Nour party were competing for second place.
The electoral commission previously said results from the balloting would be announced late tonight. But the state MENA news agency quoted commission head Abdelmoez Ibrahim as saying a large voter turnout has slowed down the counting process.
Political analysts had predicted a large voter turnout would favor the Muslim Brotherhood -- which was banned during the 30-year-rule of former President Hosni Mubarak but emerged as the strongest opposition to his regime.
Ibrahim described voter turnout this week as unexpectedly high after millions of people lined up at the polls for the first of three rounds of voting for the lower house of parliament -- Egypt's first free election in living memory:
"There were crowds and a turnout at the polling stations that we never anticipated," he said.
Possible Confrontation With Military Council
Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are now demanding that whoever controls the parliament should be allowed to form the next government, setting the stage for a possible confrontation with the ruling military council.
The Egyptian army generals who took power in February after the fall of Mubarak's regime have said they will name the government and that the parliament would have no right to dissolve it.
They also have sought to wrest from the new parliament the more long-reaching and crucial role of controlling the process for writing the new constitution.
Mohammed Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told reporters outside a polling center in Cairo on November 29 that the next government must be put together by a majority in parliament. Mursi also said the majority should be a coalition of the main parties.
Another leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, Sobhi Saleh, said on November 30 that Mursi's comments were a message to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces not to act unilaterally.
Protracted Election Process
Saleh has predicted that the Freedom and Justice Party won 50 percent of the vote so far. But political analysts say the party's true extent of support will remain unknown until the official results are announced.
Even then, the overall composition of the lower house of parliament could be altered by the drawn-out voting process, which includes two more rounds of voting that last through January 11, 2012. After that, there will be three more rounds of voting, through March, for the upper chamber.
In rural areas, the main party of the ultraconservative Islamist Salafis appear to have done surprisingly well in this week's vote, according to unofficial forecasts.
Strong support for the Salafis, who are more hard-line than the Brotherhood, would cut into the support for the Freedom and Justice Party.
Meanwhile, the main liberal-secular grouping -- the Egyptian Bloc -- also appears to have made a strong showing in some voting districts.
The Egyptian Bloc is a broad electoral alliance that opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and has taken up the cause of defending Egypt's secular and civic society.
It includes the Free Egyptians Party, a group of intellectuals and political activists seen as a neutral party in its treatment of Muslims and Egypt's Coptic Christians.
compiled from agency reports