Egyptians start two days of voting on 16 June to choose their new president. The run-off election is between Ahmed Shafiq – the last prime minister of deposed president Hosni Mubarak – and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Mursi.
The elections take place days after the country’s supreme constitutional court – most of whose judges were apppointed by Mubarak – overturned a law passed by parliament that people who had served in former governments should be banned from office.
On the same occasion the supreme court also ruled that parliament should be dissolved on the grounds that the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections were unconstitutional because party-backed candidates contested places that were reserved for independents. The Muslim Brotherhood managed to gain 100 of the 235 seats in parliament partly by winning seats reserved for non-party candidates.
Whoever wins the presidential elections will therefore be walking into a political vacuum, without a parliament and without a constitution. As there is no constitution the new president’s powers are as yet undefined.
The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament had appointed a 100-member assembly to write a new constitution just before the supreme court handed down its ruling that the parliamentary elections were unconstitutional. The court's ruling may also mean that the newly-appointed constitutional assembly has to be dissolved too.
If Shafiq – an ex-military commander and the favourite law-and-order candidate – wins the presidency Egypt will effectively remain under the control of the military which has ruled since Mubarak was removed from office by the Tahrir Square revolution in February 2011.
Should Mursi win he will have to find a way of living with the military to devise a new constitution and to organise new parliamentary elections.
The present ruling military council has said it will resign on 1 July.